The design and implementation of healthcare facilities has undergone a rapid evolution in recent years. The increased integration of technology has emerged as a driving force behind the transformation of acute care spaces.

These advancements, including digital checkpoints, smart signage for nursing communication, patient-facing interactive screens, and upgraded individual room controls, are working hand in hand with interior architectural innovation to usher in a new era that prioritizes the human element of design, from ideation through phasing.

Embracing these tech-forward strategies offers a multitude of benefits, particularly in reducing stress for patients and healthcare providers, enhancing the experience for both parties, fostering trust in the healthcare system, and ultimately improving overall health outcomes.

Using technology to support wayfinding

As acute care facilities respond to the diverse needs of patients and their families, delivering a safe and welcoming environment remains key to creating a positive first impression. Well-known strategies to achieve this include implementing clear wayfinding systems and minimizing visual clutter. The approaches can alleviate potential anxiety upon entry and offer a sense of familiarity to put patients at ease.

While traditional methods of wayfinding, such as signage and the color coding of specific department wings, remain effective to help guide patients through a facility, technology can enhance these efforts by enabling user-friendly navigation and communication interfaces.

For example, interactive signage and mobile apps can guide patients seamlessly through the facility, working in tandem with updated layouts to ensure that users feel comfortable and in control.

As more information can be stored and displayed digitally, there is no longer a need for lobby walls to be covered in posters and informative signs; instead, a single screen can rotate through relevant banners and programmed to display the most relevant information at specific peak hours of the day.

The demand for paperless options also reduces the necessary space for filing, allowing welcome desks to remain minimal.

Putting control in hands of patients

Beyond the arrival experience, it’s important to consider the needs of patients who may be staying in the hospital for hours, days, or weeks at a time. Access to natural light and views of nature become highly desired, mitigating feelings of being “trapped” indoors while also regulating patient’s natural circadian rhythm.

Despite this preference, access to daylight is often limited by a variety of factors that are outside of the designer’s control. These can include limited floor plans and square footage to lack of available windows.

To address these, facilities can implement customizable lighting options that replicate daylight artificially. This technology, often controlled through newly integrated mobile apps and bedside interfaces, allows patients to control light levels according to their preferences.

The introduction of personalized controls with systems that provide options for warm/cool lighting, climate, featured artwork, and flexible décor is also growing in popularity. These advanced control interfaces are becoming more streamlined and affordable for healthcare facilities to implement. The result is patients are able to determine which atmosphere they find most comfortable and conducive to individual healing.

Patient rooms equipped with interactive smart TVs and bedside tablets that offer access to information and entertainment further upgrade the overall stay and contribute to a positive experience. There is also potential for future technological integration, where patient profiles and preferences are automatically adjusted upon arrival based on previous visits.

The key is to ensure that technology remains user-friendly and seamless, easily connecting to a patient throughout their healing journey, both prior to entering care as well as after they return home.

Streamlining workflows, empowering staff

Designing spaces that aid in the daily lives of patients and healthcare providers is essential for ensuring continued high-quality care.

Technological solutions, such as electronic health records, mobile communication apps, and smart devices effectively streamline workflows and empower healthcare professionals to deliver more efficient care, improving nurses’ station organization and reducing the need for storage in tighter floor plans.

These innovations also equip teams and patient families with additional tools and transparency to better support the patient, honing in on the ways in which technology can influence both processes and the built environment to put the needs of all occupants at the forefront.

Beyond that, cultivating healing environments that alleviate anxiety also improves the broader work environment for healthcare providers.

Improving staff retention includes prioritizing design elements that support their daily work. Typically, there are two approaches to arranging staff in patient treatment areas: an axle-and-spoke-type model, where staff are central and can multitask while monitoring more than one patient, or a decentralized approach, in which staff move around to check on a few patients at a time with more touchdown spots.

Infusing staff spaces with technology

Technology that helps reduce staff step count could be an improvement. For example, if the patient room has camera or telehealth capabilities, including a microphone, nurses could check in with the patient from somewhere other than at the bedside.

As technology continues to evolve, caretakers may be able to get updates and communicate from a mobile device rather than a desktop computer hub, allowing for monitoring while completing other necessary tasks.

It’s equally important to provide dedicated areas for respite and refuge, where staff can rest and regroup during long shifts. The implementation of hospitality-driven design strategies creates dedicated areas for rest, allowing caregivers to decompress away from patient-facing zones.

Within these spaces, acoustics are essential in catalyzing the restorative process that breaks provide for staff. Technology interventions in these spaces might take the form of sound proofing, dedicated charging stations or electronics ports, and adjustable speakers to customize the surroundings.

Additionally, these spaces can be designed with less clinical furniture and more residential lighting for a chance to remove oneself from day-to-day stressors, while a control panel with a library of settings can allow employees to customize the respite space to meet their specific needs.

Creating integrated healthcare environments

To envision fully integrated healthcare environments, where technology is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the patient experience, it’s important to consider the diverse needs and preferences of a span of generations.

A collaborative approach is required to achieve this, with education and awareness of the benefits and uses of increasingly complex digital systems playing a vital role in easing the adoption of new technologies for both healthcare facilities and patients.

Facilities can conduct trials with targeted groups to work out any issues and ensure a smooth transition. Soft launches of technological solutions also serve to minimize confusion and resistance. As these changes are implemented, designers can help provide ongoing education and support for staff and patients to ensure comfort and confidence in the use of integrated technology.

Overall, technology has become an indispensable component of healthcare design, offering opportunities to enhance flexibility and facility adaptability and improve patient care. By focusing on individual patient needs and care team support, healthcare facilities can create healing environments that put patient and staff well-being at the forefront.

Sarah Harvey, CHID, CID, EDAC, NCIDQ, is a senior interior designer at FCA (Philadelphia) and can be reached at