In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Chris Naughton is principal and senior healthcare planner at HMC Architects (Sacramento, Calif.). Here, he shares his thoughts on how different technologies, including virtual reality, smart technology, and automation, are impacting healthcare design.

1. Virtual reality

The language of architecture can be a lot to digest for many of our clients. But with constantly evolving technology, we now have visualization tools, such as virtual reality (VR) programs, that give us the capability to immerse them into a space, giving them the ease and ability to understand the spaces we’re designing for them. With VR, our clients can explore different design options and our staff can iterate layouts and modifications in real-world scale.

2. Navigation and location devices

Lowering operational costs is a primary objective of all providers (and designers), making “doing more with less” the new mantra. By incorporating Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) technology to track equipment and people, healthcare facilities are saving money, reducing time spent searching for lost or misplaced equipment, speeding up response times for nurses and doctors, improving inventory, and cutting patient lengths of stay.

3. Smart technologies to empower patients

Hospitals can be stressful environments where patients struggle to attain one item essential for health: a sense of control. Designers have the unique ability to empower these patients by integrating smart technology, such as language assistance, bio-feedback, voice recognition, room controls, and staff feedback, into our designs. But within these tech-rich environments, it’s also necessary to strike a balance between clinical needs and humanistic needs by also incorporating a holistic design approach that includes art, music, light, and color, to further help in healing.

4. Automation and healthcare

Automation is everywhere. Driverless vehicles on the road, self-checkout in retail stores, smartphone-controlled thermostats in our homes—the list goes on. Many healthcare organizations are also looking at automation, using Automated Guided Vehicles to move supplies and food to patient floors or automating lab testing and building control systems. These solutions help cut costs, increase efficiency, and eliminate waste.

5. Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is expected to grow and impact healthcare design. While VR takes users out of reality altogether, AR users don’t lose touch with the real world. Instead, AR mixes reality by integrating or superimposing virtual elements within the user’s view. We’re currently working with an app designer and a hospital arts consultant to use AR to tell a story about the artwork on the walls in a pediatric corridor. A mobile device wirelessly senses the art when a patient or visitor is within viewing distance and shares the story of a young girl’s courage and recovery. As this technology develops, it could be used to put additional information at patients’ fingertips to help them navigate a complex environment or to connect them with stories of hope.