December 3, 2020

The third installment of DPR Construction’s COVID-19 briefing series delves into the insights industry partners and clients provided regarding how an accelerated adoption of technologies may shape the healthcare industry.

COVID-19 has been a disruptor, accelerating and improving the implementation of technology used in healthcare while enabling flexibility of care. What took years to develop and implement is now put into action within weeks.

In the healthcare industry, digital technologies and system integrations have transformed the relationship between medical professional and patient. These integrations will improve the patient experience, access to care, physician access to information, and provides faster and more effective care solutions. Predicting the future has continually been a challenge for imaging, diagnostics, and medical equipment when planning facilities. The consensus from industry leaders is that the adoption of new technologies in healthcare has been accelerated by COVID-19 and will be a game changer as we enter a digital transformation of care.

There is clear consensus among industry leaders that technology will improve health outcomes and increase access to care. Additionally, as patient behaviors shift to greater acceptance of digital health, the wellness model featuring patient participation, ownership, and personal responsibility will change and expand as well.

Telemedicine and eHealth are here to stay. With fewer barriers such as internet access and speed, patient and/or physician resistance, and implementation and reimbursement obstacles, applications of technology have become more accessible and have been more broadly adopted. Additionally, these applications are benefitting the patient experience and increasing patient confidence.

Benefits start with interoperability, which enables safer transitions of care and better patient outcomes overall. Health information systems are more easily working across operational boundaries today. Integration of systems and data (including diagnostic data, asset data and patient data) will provide analytics on “what you have, what you need and when you need it.” Patients are gaining on-demand access to their own patient records and electronic tracking for everything from diagnostic tests to doctors’ advice.

Project partners meet virtually on a digital videoconference platform.
Just as project teams and stakeholders quickly adapted to virtual work, similar environments will be part of the future for healthcare providers and their stakeholders.

How might this affect facilities and the spaces within?

Integrated technology solutions can boost flexibility and preparedness for the three categories of challenges identified by discussion groups: safety, capacity and isolation.

  • Hospital rooms may have more flexibility for remote care with broader implementation of video connections enabling remote rounds, expanded remote monitoring for vitals beyond the nurse station, and increased visualization outside the room. Universal rooms with the flexibility to incorporate ante rooms and digital integration are the future.
  • Waiting rooms of the future may be smaller, supported by self-check-in, and self-rooming. Infrared scanning, patient recorded vitals from wearables and UV disinfection may be incorporated, all while maintaining the patient experience that our industry has strived to attain.
  • Broader and more effective implementation of robotics may move things around the facility, including supplies, PPE, medication and food.
  • A hybrid care model will further decentralize care. In addition to telemedicine, home monitoring and observation will add to the in-person care. There is even the potential for drive-through diagnostics in the future.
  • Smart devices - wearables, health apps, etc. - will advance rapidly with 5G to track and monitor all types of health conditions outside of healthcare walls. This will be another direct impact for wellness and potentially less demand for physical space. Further, single use direct-to-consumer devices may increase access and use of care services, speeding the diagnostics process.
  • Capacity requirements, including the proper amount and quality of space, privacy, and bandwidth cannot be underestimated. These requirements need to be part of the overall masterplan to pivot with technology advances.
A DPR worker uses his phone to scan a document on the wall.
Tech tools are helping share information from the job site with stakeholders anywhere.

How can we be ready for the digital transformation?

Discussion participants agreed that technology has been a significant element for resuming normal operations and/or enabling reinvention, both personally and professionally, since COVID-19 struck. There is broad agreement that technology will transform not only how we design, renovate and build but also greatly influence what is created as well.

“If we, as an industry, do this right, technology will provide the flexibility to give our customers ‘future-ready capabilities to adapt to new technologies and respond to future emergencies,” said Sean Ashcroft, one of DPR Construction’s national healthcare leaders.

But no one can do this alone and the group of industry leaders strongly agrees.

“Foremost, a health system’s enterprise technology plan must be coordinated and integrated with a building’s design and construction,” shared Carl Fleming, DPR Construction’s national healthcare strategist. “Technologies that are ‘future state’ today will be current state when a new building sees its first patient. As a result, it is imperative for the digital environment and the built environment to work together to enhance patient care and improve clinical outcomes. Our experience reflects better technology coordination when design and construction professionals are part of the technology discussion early in the project and the industry group highly recommends a new role on the construction team – systems integrator.”

A neo-natal care area of a healthcare facility.
Integrating new healthcare technology systems early in design and construction is vital to success.

Hybrid care models will change the functionality of rooms and the need to bridge telemedicine and in-person care. Outpatient facilities will be smarter, hospitals will be smarter, and MOB’s may allocate space to accommodate the hybrid care model concept. An integrated technology solution will inform space needs for infrastructure, including larger Main Distribution Frame / Intermediate Distribution Frame (MDF/IDF) closets and an expanded infrastructure.

Technology has also been transformative in the design and construction worlds with team interaction, 4D modelling and virtual inspections. Collaboration continues to rise to new levels and jobsites look different. An upcoming briefing will take a deeper dive into how design and construction delivery is adapting and advancing.