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How the Pandemic is Changing Healthcare Design
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Shifting Strategies at the VA Help Handle Coronavirus Cases
COVID-19 has changed the way healthcare is delivered in the U.S. and has undoubtedly affected the operations of healthcare facilities. Healthcare facilities know that they need to provide care for all patients in the safest way possible—and for healthcare co-workers as well. This is the case whether patients need home-based care, outpatient care, urgent care, emergency room care, inpatient care, or intensive care.
As a result of the current pandemic, architects and designers need to be focused on creating healthcare spaces that enforce social distancing, heightened cleanliness and contactless environments. Many evidence-based strategies are expected to become more of the norm in 2021 and beyond. These strategies could include improving infection prevention, increased PPE storage, increasing room capacity for overflow situations, more isolation, changes in waiting rooms and public spaces, and the effects telemedicine could have on overall healthcare design.
Look, but don’t touch
COVID-19 has made people more aware of how germs are spread and has led to changes to design moving forward. This is leading to more touchless technology being installed and implemented. Touch points are being eliminated and voice recognition or activation is becoming more common. Touchless temperature checks that have become commonplace in hospitals, schools, and businesses won’t necessarily stop in the near future. Unrelated to COVID-19, facility managers will be forced to consider the question: Who do we want to come into our hospital? Visitors need to be healthy or they can spread disease. Other new technology that is being seen in the healthcare industry includes touchless check-ins for hospital, emergency rooms or clinics, touchless kiosks, and touchless displays that offer entertainment without having to touch an object have been used this year. App usage in healthcare has been up significantly. While many hospitals and health systems have pushed for patients to check-in using an app from a smart phone, the pandemic is making people finally embrace it.
Being able to implement touchless technology can be difficult at both ends of the age spectrum. It is one of the reasons new technology is hard to implement with older patients. Implementing touchless processes is also challenging for younger patients. Pediatricians know that children are constantly wanting to touch things and it is an integral part of their development. Offering touchless activity systems in patient rooms and waiting areas could be helpful with keeping children entertained, but also safe from contracting or spreading germs.
Being able to implement touchless technology can be difficult at both ends of the age spectrum. It is one of the reasons new technology is hard to implement at the VA.
No waiting game
Scheduling appointments in advance is becoming more efficient. Fewer people are using waiting rooms because they can be a breeding ground for sharing germs. Future designs will have smaller waiting rooms with fewer chairs but further apart. Even when waiting rooms are being used, healthcare staff has improved the efficiency of getting patients’ information by gathering it before they get to the office, so that they can get to the exam rooms sooner to be seen by the doctor. It is now common for patients to check-in to their appointments from the parking lot of a hospital or doctors’ office. The implementation of providing this option, or even making it mandatory in some cases, has led to fewer people in the waiting room. This provides not only a safer atmosphere for those who are visiting the facility for appointments but also design changes for waiting rooms moving forward.
Some healthcare facilities are creating specific rooms that have an exterior entrance so that people who are sick can go straight into their exam. This way they will only have contact with the doctor and nurse. They do not expose other patients to their illness and wait in their car until it is time for them to enter and begin their examination. This is similar to the sick and well waiting areas in pediatrics.
In healthcare design, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, eliminating the use of frosted plexiglass in waiting rooms and at reception desks was gaining traction. However, with the goal of infection prevention, the installation of this device is becoming more popular again. While this does provide protection for staff members in the reception area, it is not a welcoming sight for patients. New developments need to be made in this area that can protect staff members, while also providing a welcoming and positive experience to those seeking help from the professionals in the office or hospital setting.
Reach out and treat someone
Waiting rooms are also not as necessary now because of the increase in telemedicine. With telemedicine helping prevent the spread of disease and improving the efficiency of seeing patients, this trend will not be going away anytime soon.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, trends showed an increase in interest in the use of telehealth services by both healthcare professionals and patients, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Policy changes that were made during the pandemic have made it easier for patients to get telehealth access and healthcare professionals have encouraged the use of telemedicine to provide acute, chronic, primary and specialty care. Insurance providers have also supported the transition to telemedicine services during 2020.
Telemedicine services can be used to screen patients who may have symptoms of COVID-19, provide low-risk urgent care for those who do not have COVID-19 symptoms or identify people who may need additional medical consultation. Telemedicine can also be helpful to people who live in rural areas and may require extensive driving in order to be seen by a health professional. Furthermore, healthcare professionals are using telehealth to meet mental health needs during the COVID-19 crisis, which is only expected to increase as a way to expand mental and behavioral health care to patient populations.
How the Pandemic is Changing Healthcare Design