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In the future, can hospitals heal both people and place?

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Hospitals will need to be organised around a patient-first model as a paradigm shift into how care is delivered shapes the future of healthcare.

Our world is getting inevitably older. Comparatively speaking, planet Earth is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old, however, human life has only called the third rock from the sun home for close to six million of those years.

Despite this, the global population has flourished to a point that we now face demographic uncertainty as to just how many people will inhabit Earth by the end of the 21st century. According to the United Nations Population Division’s latest insights, the proportion of the world's population aged over 60 years will nearly double from 12 per cent to 22 per cent (2.1 billion people to be precise) between 2015 and 2050. Factor this demographic explosion in alongside the evolving climate crisis, with a global pandemic for good measure, and it quickly becomes evident that the way in which we care for both people and place is the need of the century.

In the context of the healthcare sector, themes of ‘digital’ and ‘sustainable’ are omnipresent as we navigate challenges and innovate solutions to prolong life of our natural environment and of our people. As we envision the built environment’s role in all of this, I believe we will face a paradigm shift into how care is delivered, how patients will want to consume healthcare services, and how hospitals will need to be organised around a patient-first model.

We are looking at a world where healthcare systems will need to manage rising challenges, be it caring for an aging population, dealing with chronic diseases, or enabling healthcare facilities to operate in a carbon positive reality. This comes at a time where healthcare systems are already facing cost management challenges and scarcity of specialised resources to bring health equality to the masses.

So, what will tomorrow’s hospitals look like in the future? Here are eight emerging trends that could shape the sector and redefine the patient experience:

Supporting ‘Healthcare Everywhere’

A shift towards ‘always-on’, ‘healthcare everywhere’ models of care delivery has accelerated following the COVID-19 pandemic. This exponential growth has resulted in the uptake of platforms and applications that provide contactless solutions for patient needs, such as ‘home as the hospital’ and the adoption of telehealth virtual care solutions.

Moving forward, hospitals will need to build infrastructure, support systems and operating models for new ways of treating patients. Wearables and Medical Internet of Things (IoT) will provide digital biomarkers to allow better patient monitoring from the home. Digital channels and community and primary care centres will be crucial to making healthcare more affordable and available to mass population.

In the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) context, where smartphone penetration is 97 per cent and 60 million 5G mobile connections are expected by 2025, the formation of similar solutions could be transformational for the sector. We are seeing already the rise of digital first hospitals globally. Mayo Clinic and Medically Home are partnering to launch a new healthcare delivery model that will deliver ‘advanced care’ typically available inside hospitals into patient homes via wearable biometric monitoring devices.

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Remy Levastre, Advisory Director – Healthcare at WSP Middle East

Purposefully designed for the patient experience

To quote my colleague Kevin Cassidy, Healthcare Global Lead at WSP: “We can provide all this great technology, but the patient will always be a human. A human connection is part of the healing process.”

In the future, hospitals will be more patient-centric, where experience is everything. Smart spaces and digitally enabled hospitality will be a necessity, given consumer demands. Hospital buildings will resemble hotels and offer hotel-like amenities such as better food, streaming services, better-positioned outlets for cell phone charging, online entertainment, and making health records more accessible to patients. Patient-centric design, well-being environment and conveniency for the caregivers will also contribute to the patient healing process including the landscape features around a hospital. 

On the inpatient care front, patient vitals could be monitored constantly by wearables and patient flow will be monitored and enhanced using predictive analytics and machine learning through operational and clinical Command Centres and Data Rooms – all with a view towards creating seamless patient interactions and best-in-class care.

Value Based Healthcare at the core

As digitally savvy consumers, patients are going to be active participants in their healthcare journeys, thus demanding transparency, convenience, and personalised healthcare products and services.

They will have awareness of the availability of acute care, precision diagnostics and personalised treatment options, but with flexibility to take control over their data, using more technology to share data to providers to get value-based healthcare.

Powered by tech innovations

Caregivers will be supported by high tech innovations as AI will bring more impact as the healthcare world collects more data globally, especially in under-represented regions such as the Middle East. Hospitals will act more like technology hubs to deal with large amounts of data. Robotics will assume more importance to support the caregivers on simple tasks, to avoid risks in contamination exposure, reducing risk and time into surgical acts. Specialists will be better connected to the outside world with wellbeing Tele-Health rooms for remote diagnostics. 5G will allow doctors to pull up massive amounts of personalised data on a wireless screen in seconds to leverage data, advanced analytics, digital platforms and technology from other partners like payment vendors, providers and other stakeholders.

With wider rollout of high-speed wireless networks, and more people wearing devices tracking data, we will be better positioned to leverage AI and rich data sets to further promote health and wellness.

Modular, flexible, sustainable designs & structures

Hospitals will be much more modular in their designs and structures, adaptable and flexible with a huge focus on sustainability and environment. Lessons learned from the pandemic tell us that medical rooms need to be flexible by design in the event they need to be turned into an ICU-capable room and to provide optimum resilience against the unknown. In the case of Penn Medicine's new health pavilion in Philadelphia the initiative to proactively build ICU-capable rooms added 7 per cent in costs to the project but made sense considering the ICU demands of the pandemic, according to Penn Medicine CEO Kevin Mahoney. This is also exemplified in the redevelopment of Kwong Wah Hospital in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where intelligent engineering services will make it possible to manage infections on either a small scale or in the case of a pandemic, 100 patient rooms can individually be switched from “normal” to “isolation” mode. 

As governments around the world push for more sustainable development, engineers and consultants are at the forefront of solutions to eliminate the carbon emissions of buildings to help mitigate the impact of climate change. Again, this requires foresight and effective front—end strategic advisory to advocate the merit of symbiosis between the natural and built environment for long-term betterment of society. In the future, many providers will not just meet regulatory requirements but will also realise that through implementation of environmentally sustainable operations, they will be able to reduce their energy costs, improve their ESG impact, and monitor and visualise benefits through Hospital Digital Twins. In the Middle East, Zulekha Hospital Sharjah became the first hospital certified at LEED Platinum level with the vision that “sustainability is about creating shared value for our patients, physicians, employees and community we serve” said CEO ‎Zanubia Shams‎‏.

Hospitals as hotbeds for medical innovation

As Medical and Technology hubs, hospitals can offer collaborative spaces for researchers and innovators to nurture incubation of new ideas and inventions which can be adopted and scaled faster with the ultimate objective of propagating a self-sustaining health ecosystem. A prime example of this is the American Hospital Dubai launching its landmark initiative with the region’s first AI-led research lab. This facility, in alignment with the UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, illustrates new possibilities for data analytics, AI algorithms, and technology vendors to empower enriched healthcare diagnostics and predictability of illness patterns.

Be agile on the journey to digital adoption

“We are on a journey to digital everything” – these were the words of GSMA Chief Executive Officer, John Hoffman at the opening of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this week.

With the digital ecosystem continuously evolving and greener initiatives, backed by technology, paving the road to clean, green healthcare solutions, we are at a defining moment in healthcare history as new concepts take flight. Now with concepts like the metaverse coming to reality, we could see potential use cases being applied within the healthcare industry in education and training, or perhaps use cases in B2C consumables that elevate industry dynamics to new heights.

The future of how we heal people and place is exciting – so, what are your views about how the metaverse and other emerging trends could impact the healthcare system and hospitals?

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