Healthcare has always been at the forefront of major technological advances. Our innate desire to live longer, healthier, and more impactful lives coupled with the huge potential financial gains possible from a market segment that continues to regenerate itself has led to significant breakthroughs throughout time.

From the invention of the first microscope in 1590 by Dutch lens grinder Zacharias Janssen to the emerging technology developed by the military that allowed Ekso Bionics, formerly Berkeley Bionics, to develop Ekso—an exoskeleton designed to give seriously disabled people the ability to stand and walk again—the healthcare industry has frequently been leading the innovation pack

An inherent obstacle of all this innovative technology, though, is the inability of individual components to link up and blend together into a new whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. This seaming together of disparate parts is one of the things that Apple does brilliantly, allowing its devices to communicate and share information in a way that provides greater value than if components were linked via systems designed and manufactured by different companies.

The seamlessness that Apple achieves is possible only because its teams work together, have a common design philosophy, and share knowledge and technology across platforms as they create new products.

As we move to the larger playing field of our industry, it’s an overwhelming constraint to try to apply these same consistencies to an industry as big and complex as healthcare. This is where the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) comes in.

At a recent meeting of The Center for Health Design’s Built Environment Network (BEN), members spent a day in Pittsburgh at the CCM, to learn how the group is working with 15 strategic partners (including GE, IBM, Verizon, Johnson Controls, and Turner Construction) to explore new models of care and strategically integrate health information technology.

CCM is working to facilitate communication, collaboration, and coordination among all stakeholders along the entire continuum of healthcare. During the course of the day, BEN members were able to take a peek at what a smart patient room might look like in the not-too-distant future.

On their own, all of the included components are things we’ve seen or heard about before. But together, they made for an integrated experience that enabled both the patient and the caregiver to collect and share information as well as have control over the environment.

An integrated approach to technology and coordinated electronic health records are just two of the many ways that new innovations can facilitate the caregiver’s ability to input vital information and look for systemic patterns. In turn, this can help improve the quality of care, reduce unintended consequences, and decrease the percentage of patients who are harmed as a result of medical care.

In a recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services, it was found that some hospital administrators are ignoring state regulations that require them to report cases where medical care harmed a patient. Researchers involved in the study believe that the lack of reporting stems from a lack of clear understanding by caregivers about what they need to report and how they need to report it.

In any case, without such reporting, it’s almost impossible for healthcare providers to identify patterns that could allow them to fix preventable problems. This same study reports that 27% of Medicare patients are harmed as a result of medical care, and that these errors cost Medicare a whopping $324 million every month.

So the stakes are high. And a new level of coordination to improve healthcare delivery is only going to happen through collaboration of many different stakeholders—including those responsible for the design of the built environment.

We need to continue to provide forums for innovators to share where they’re going and how they’re getting there. This sharing of knowledge and information doesn’t have to be a threat to business development, market share, or the individuality that separates one from the pack. It can actually have the opposite effect, making us as a community greater, stronger, and more innovative as a whole than we could ever be on our own. 

Debra J. Levin is President and CEO of The Center for Health Design in Concord, California. Follow her on Twitter at @CHD_DebraLevin.