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Patients Are Disrupting Healthcare

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At a recent Healthcare Facilities conference, I attended a presentation by Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn from Adrenaline Agency on Digital Disruption in the Healthcare industry. They were captivating speakers and I found the topic to be fascinating. In today's world, disruption can be seen as a buzz word, but whatever we think, it's here. The presentation looked at the bigger picture, showing the largest industries and where they fall on the bell curve of disruption. Media, entertainment and technology have already been turned upside down by disruption, the financial industry is on the tipping point, but healthcare, an industry that affects every one of us, and many times in a big way, is only beginning to realize the effects of digital disruption. Having dedicated my career to healthcare design, that spoke to me. As an industry representing 17.9% of total gross national product, touching nearly every person on the planet, how can healthcare choose to innovate before being forced to reinvent itself? 

The Driver - Patient Experience
I will go out on a limb and hypothesize that the changes this industry undergoes will all have a common driving force: patient experience. The changing insurance landscape is making us all savvier consumers. We are taking a deeper look at our healthcare, and like true consumers, taking alternate routes to get our needs accomplished. An example is from a recent interview I read with Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison, where one of his physicians asked him if he knew what they charged him for a plastic boot after a recent procedure, pointing out he could have saved $200 by purchasing it on Amazon. Healthcare Administrators understand this shifting awareness and are under extreme pressure to control costs, while still making an attractive value proposition to attract and retain patients. Today I'm going to focus on the patient - the changing preferences, their experience and how the future of design can make an impact.

Understanding Patient Preferences
When it comes to how we make our purchase decisions, demographics play a big role in the level of change we are willing to endure. Digital vs. physical touchpoints is a debated question; what level of automation will we tolerate? Regardless of age, we all want personalized support during a health visit. However, our use of digital tools varies greatly; millennials are up to 3.5 times more likely to use digital health tools compared to the next age group. The addition of virtual interactions is inevitable and the first place that we are seeing the industry shift is in the pre-visit communication - patient portals, text reminders, emails, etc. Digital disruption is going to cause some drastic industry changes regardless of current patient preferences, but the focus should be on how the changes can enhance and further personalize our healthcare experiences.

Improving Patient Experience
An unforeseen benefit of the heightened competition between healthcare organizations is the increased focus on patient experience. Providers now understand the importance of creating a positive encounter regardless of at what point in the lifecycle the patient or family is seeking care. We have already seen some innovative solutions coming forward to change the patient experience. The first part of the disruption bell curve for the industry has been a trend towards reduction in hierarchy. What does that mean when it comes to patient experience? Patients today don't want to wait, and by consolidating care team space and reducing private offices, it improves the care team’s access to physicians, decreasing the time it takes to get feedback relayed to the patient. The next phase of disruption that I see is the introduction of smart rooms. Imagine the functionality of a smart TV or high-powered conference room hookup, but within each patient room. Providing flat screen panels in the rooms allows patients to self-room, turn to a screen, answer the preliminary health screen questions, and even adjust the temperature to meet their preferences. A patient could then have the option to review their personalized health plan or progress towards goals since their last visit. If this is their first visit they could relax and enjoy some entertainment before the provider arrives. Less waiting, faster check-in, comfortable temperature, entertainment in room… disruption can sometimes have some pleasant side effects.

Visualizing the Future of Healthcare Design
While the presentation touched on how technology is and will be impacting patient experience, there are still ramifications to the physical design of the space. Some that we are already seeing include registration consolidation. The days of dedicated registration within each department are going away and moving toward a more universal centralized registration model, where patients only have to check-in once. Aligned with this change are shrinking waiting rooms, also responding to patient's aversion to waiting. With the advance of self-rooming, the waiting rooms of the future will no longer need to hold large numbers of people, but rather focus on variety and hospitality, with an enhanced level of technology. And finally, maybe we haven't physically taken advantage of them yet, but we've all seen them promoted: Virtual Visits. This form of care can help reduce healthcare costs and enhance access while appealing to the ever tech savvy Millennials and Generation Z. While many providers are already creating dedicated virtual visit rooms, with the drive to reduce costs and optimize space, I predict a change in the way these are being designed to function as smarter space, becoming dual function spaces that could operate as a hoteling office or consult space when not in use.

When thinking of the future of healthcare in the U.S., it can be easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. But when I think of the opportunities that disruption to the industry could provide, I feel invigorated for the future, and what we have to look forward to. With the advance of companies like Amazon, Uber and Apple joining the picture, change is already at our doorstep. I would love to hear from you, what do you see as the next disruption to healthcare?

Emily McNamara, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Senior Project Architect

Emily McNamara, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a Senior Project Architect with EUA's Healthcare Studio in the Milwaukee office. She loves to cook, especially when the food comes from her own garden.

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