By Joseph Flaherty
- Integrating screens into the architecture makes it easy to put vital information into contextually appropriate locations, rather than being confined to tiny monitors or lo-res printouts. Image: NXT Health
07.19.13 –There is tension between doctors and designers. Architects want to build dramatic structures while doctors need room to deal with traumatic scenarios. Creatives obsess over crafting clean lines, surgical teams operate in highly regulated clean rooms. Nurses shout “Code blue!” while designers ask “Does it have to be blue?” Despite these inherent differences, the non-profit design firm NXT Health has developed a proposal for the nicest hospital room you’ll hopefully never have to visit.
Their project, called Patient Room 2020 presents a vision that fuses the best of the American Medical Association and the Apple Store with a few CCs of Tron thrown in for good measure. The room is filled with curved white panels and brushed aluminum fixtures that make it feel like an iPhone — fitting since backlit displays and touch screens appear on almost every surface to give docs instant access to medical records and vital signs. “Technology has to become the connective tissue that holds together the continuum of care,” says David Ruthven, project co-lead and creative director. “Because there is infinite variability between physical environments.”
In the NXT proposal, the patient’s dinner table would flip over, allowing them to control the lights, review their progress, call for help, and maybe pass the time playing a few games of Angry Birds. Image: NXT Health
Faced with increasing competition over the last 20 years, hospitals have taken design cues from hotels and kitted out rooms with wood textures and pastel color schemes. These homey touches might put patients at ease, but make disinfection a challenge and create difficulties integrating new technology. “We asked ‘How should the room perform?’ and then established the aesthetics based on optimal performance.” says Ruthven and the result is modern while also referencing the sterile palette of hospitals from the 1950s and 60s. Critical health information is displayed where it will be most useful to doctors, not where the IT person set up a monitor. Patients don’t have to fumble with switches and knobs, when they touch surfaces lights turn on automatically.
The minimal aesthetics of the proposal belie thoughtful interactive details embedded below the surface. When caregivers enter a room LED lights make the sink glow red reminding them to wash their hands, when properly disinfected the sink turn green. A simple modification, but the failure of health care professionals to wash their hands contributes to over 100,000 deaths per year and $30 billion in costs every year.
Patient Room 2020 also brings gamification to the hospital with a leaderboard that tracks stats for caregivers to see who covers the most ground and helps the most patients in a given day. As if saving lives and upholding their Hippocratic oath wasn’t enough, notoriously competitive doctors will now be motivated by how they stack up against their peers.
New regulations penalize hospitals that have to readmit patients so the proposal also addresses care after discharge. Medical peripherals like blood pressure cuffs would be detached from the room and sent home with patients. Software tools embedded in the room would be translated into a friendly quantified self app that will allow patients to check in with a care manager remotely. The goal is to have patients and doctors using the same basic tech tools no matter where they are located to optimize the level of service that’s provided.
The hospital room of the future embeds sensors and displays into the furniture and walls reducing the need for manual record keeping, minimizing errors, and optimizing quality of care. Photo: NXT Health
2020 is right around the corner and Ruthven’s team is already thinking about 2030. He sees change coming on all fronts — he fears terrorism and climate change might increase and alter the patient population, a increased focus on prevention will create requirements for new spaces, and tech advances like Google Glass could fundamentally change the way doctors operate. Fortunately, they crafted the system so components could be switched out as new technology develops and novel use cases emerge.
The design is an impressive prescription for future development, but Ruthven knows getting risk averse and cash-strapped institutions to incorporate these design ideas will be a challenge. “We have thrown a disruptive deep pass with our work on the Patient Room 2020 project,” says Ruthven “But its too early to tell if anyone will catch it and take some of the ideas to the big house.” He hopes others will try and implement some of the ideas, even if a full overhaul is out of the question. “There is a treasure trove of details embedded in that effort that we didn’t have the resources or time to investigate,” he says. “I really think that it can have a halo effect and produce a lot of meaningful content, we just need the right partners in place to make it happen.” Paging Dr. Ive.
The Patient Room 2020 is on display at the DuPont Corian Design Studio.