Futuristic hospital rooms hint at being patient-centric, integrated, sensor-based organisms with all the right stuff, from monitoring to calming lighting.
I recently went to visit an 85-year-old friend of the family who had a stroke while driving her 92-year-old husband to hospital. Believe it or not, her husband Bill, a Second World War veteran, was having a mini-stroke of his own while Lena raced to the hospital.
Upon their arrival, Lena herself was rendered immobile and had to be helped out of the car by emergency attendants who rushed to her side. She was so concerned and stressed about driving her husband to the hospital that she herself suffered a massive stroke along the way. Incredibly, she managed to hold on long enough until she put the car in park. Her 63-year-old son also suffered a stroke the same weekend, if you can believe it.
Lena and Bill were, of course, admitted to Intensive Care immediately and assessed by critical care physicians. While Bill was sent to recover in a respite home due to the mildness of his mini-stroke, Lena remained in the ICU for a few more days until she was transferred to the neuroscience ward.
A healing environment?
Upon visiting Lena, I could see how weak she was. This strong, fit woman who raised three strong boys on the farm, and slung aluminum milk barrels like empty suitcases, was now confined to a hospital bed, barely able to whisper. How sad, I thought. How very sad.
Photo: Mark Hillary
While our hospitals do the best job they can caring for patients with the resources they are given, I have to wonder how much faster patients would recover if there was a better aesthetic, a greater feeling of connectedness … families to patients, patients to nurses, nurses to doctors, doctors to families.
In essence, that’s what digital health aims for. To leverage every possible advance in technology to improve patient care while reducing costs and increasing efficiencies.
Hospital rooms of the future
For these reasons, a recent article at www.usnews.com caught my eye, especially the headline, which read “Hospitals redesigning spaces to boost patient health. High tech monitors allow for more at-home care and real-time updates to electronic health records.”
The article described how innovations in hospital room design, including sensor-based, integrated design components such as medical device-containing movable walls, calming lighting and virtually touchless surfaces, are lowering stress and infection rates as well.
According to the article, “medical error [in 2013] was the third-leading cause of death in the US, though the harm may have lessened [since then.]"
And what can sometimes cause medical error? According to the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, it’s the stress of medical professionals and patients constantly hearing ringing bells, alarms and equipment sounding off. This, in turn, argues the foundation, can sometimes cause disposable devices to be re-used, thereby increasing the risk of infection.
Not so, according to the foundation, which hopes to lower hospital-related deaths by 2020.
We’ve all discovered that the bed is the worst place for patients. Too much time in a hospital bed can cause bed sores and muscle atrophy as well as prevent patients from getting the exercise they need to heal. Plus, it can be depressing, isolating, especially when it seems doctors and nurses are too busy to pay constant attention.
– Dr. Michael Ramsey, chairman of anesthesiology at Baylor Health Care System in Houston and president of the Baylor Research Institute.
I can certainly vouch for that, at least from what I saw of my friend Lena. Although her nurses appeared to be doing a great job of caring for her, it was her room that bothered me. It left a lot to be desired. It was stark, impersonal, and lacked any sort of warmth. I wasn’t even allowed to bring her flowers because of allergies on the floor. No TV, radio or WiFi either.
What’s a patient to do all day long?
Luckily, according to other research I’ve done, hospital rooms are changing.
For example, US News and World Report reported recently that the Dayton Children's Hospital in Ohio is spending $141 million to upgrade its campus, which includes a new data center. “When nurses enter a room in the new building, their name and picture pop up on a bedside TV so the patient can identify them,” says the website.
As well, the DuPont Corian Design Studio in New York has designed Patient Room 2020, a sort of futuristic, living, breathing organism with all the bells and whistles, including UV light sanitization. All prefabricated, customizable, and movable pods, if you will, that can be custom-configured.
What would a patient room look like if the architecture, products, technology, and medical processes were all designed in unison? asks the Patient Room 2020 website.
With support from the Department of Defense, NXT partnered with Clemson University’s Healthcare + Architecture Graduate Program to begin answering this question. The end result was a conceptual proposal that demonstrated how the integration of these key components could streamline the delivery of care, improve patient outcomes and redefine the medical experience in the 21st Century. In 2010, Patient Room 2020 won a national design award from the Center for Health Design affirming that experts recognized the potential of such a design to create a new medical experience. – Patient Room 2020
Take a gander at some of the various features of Patient Room 2020. You get a real feel for what the future could really look like in hospital rooms.
While I find these images of future hospital rooms equally as stark and cold as the hospital room I described earlier, I realize the digital health solutions that hide behind their moveable walls likely hold the promise of a much better future for patients and their health care professionals with way better outcomes.
As a patient though, and a patient advocate, I would be far more engaged to join the conversation if schematics such as this had a warmer tone and showed a little more humanity and warmth, simply to reassure me as a layperson that care will still come from humans in the future, despite all of the fancy bells and whistles.
Teddy bear avatars please
How about giving Patient 2020 a Teddy Bear avatar or some allergy-free flowers to brighten up the place? Or show a few visitors? Something that to reassure we laypeople that the future isn't as stark as it sometimes feels.
Photo: Chris and Rhiannon
Because for all the advances in technology, we humans still need to feel cared for, loved and connected, something no device can currently provide. At least not yet.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.