The utilization of telehealth systems is amongst the top global healthcare industries. Since the rise of COVID-19, we are seeing the technology advance and rapidly adapt to becoming the global standard for virtual communication between patient and the healthcare services industry. The use of virtual healthcare is on a steep trajectory, enabling the distribution of health-related services and information delivered through electronic information and telecommunication technologies. While the pandemic has paved the way for many new uses for telehealth systems, healthcare-related services today already embrace virtual health systems including:
- Acute Care Hospitals
- Ambulatory Care Centers
- Mental Healthcare – Therapists, Psychiatrists
- Dental care
- Laboratory and diagnostic care
- Substance abuse treatment
- Preventative care
- Physical therapy
- Pharmaceutical care
- Nutritional support
How does the global adoption of telehealth inform design?
There is the technical aspect and the process aspect. The technical aspect requires a high degree of coordination between the equipment manufacturers and users and understanding of what improvements are required to the existing infrastructure. Today many vendors are offering virtual products that allow for audio and video interactions that do not compromise quality. For quick implementation, owners should consider the least complicated system products including those which are already in use in hospitals and are most familiar to staff for teleconferences. These systems include Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime.
The process aspect focusses on defining what the organization will do with telehealth to achieve its goals. As architects and engineers, this involves user consultation and space planning providing design that adapts to the usage of telehealth equipment and the workflow process, which can also be achieved through simulation design procedures also known as crash-test design. Healthcare design is evolving by bringing clinical simulation into the healthcare design process to inform better decisions. This process involves the combination of simulation, prototype testing, tabletop exercises and movement maps to generate hard data to inform the final design decision.
Virtual Health Efficiencies
The use of telehealth systems opens the door to a wide variety of ways for adding efficiencies and saving dollars. Virtual appointments with clinicians or therapists have proven more efficient due to fewer cancellations and appointment delays. An increase in revenue is generated by adding more patients, fewer staff requirements, and in-turn developing less overhead. Also, the use of virtual communications and conferencing has allowed the healthcare industry to re-think their real estate. Staff members are now able to work from home and as efficient, if not more efficient, as they were while in the office environment. This leads to fewer space requirements, less equipment, and less energy usage.
Telehealth Use Cases
Telehealth can also be used to assist with the supervision of residents, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are being modified for supervising physicians that oversee services delivered by non-physician practitioners – and for teaching physicians overseeing services performed by residents. For the duration of the pandemic, the overseeing physician does not need to be in the same physical location as the non-physician practitioner or resident providing the service but instead can provide “direct supervision” remotely via telehealth with both audio and visual components.
At NORR, every discussion with our healthcare clients probes the current and future integration of telehealth into their respective environments to ensure technology and process are considered in the design.
Frank Panici, B.Arch., B. Tech., OAA
Vice President, Health Sciences
T 416 926 4323