We are dedicating this final blog of our “Design: A New Way Forward” series to community health centers and the overall medical community. This year has not only highlighted the importance of our physical and mental wellness, but also the organizations that provide support services for them. Although clinics and health centers have always dealt with infection control, the widespread nature of COVID-19 has made matters more pressing as the industry deals with this novel airborne illness. Medical and health professionals are trained in practicing sanitary and isolation methods. Add in creative design, and we can all contribute to a safer and proactive future that promotes wellness for all.
More Access into the Community
Hospitals are no longer being thought of as the central destination for healthcare. Younger generations are finding more convenience in seeking community health centers and clinics that are in close proximity to where they live and shop. This “retailization of healthcare” allows patients to seek non-acute care in a sterile and healthy environment. Many retail developers are incorporating healthcare uses into their centers with the knowledge that convenience and accessibility are now key drivers for patients. In efforts to become more convenient, community health centers are also incorporating multiple practices into one clinic such as urgent care, dental, vision, family health, wellness, behavioral health, pharmacy, and senior care.
Earlier this year, healthcare facilities were facing shortages of beds, personal protective equipment (PPE), and overrun waiting rooms. Drive-through test centers became the solution for distributing COVID-19 testing to the broader population. These drive-through test centers could remain beyond the pandemic for other purposes such as administering flu shots or potentially other vaccinations. Drive-throughs are also creating accessible healthcare for pharmacies. Many larger retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens are designed to have drive-through areas. Other retailers such as Target area are also becoming more interested in this concept. Drive-through services should be considered for the design of future community health centers as a means to deliver more convenient care while maintaining social distance and infection control.
Future of Waiting Rooms
With the existing conditions of COVID-19, waiting rooms of healthcare facilities have become hubs of extreme sanitary and anti-viral/anti-bacterial practices. Some facilities have created double waiting rooms – one for patients who are sick, and a separate one for those who are not. Most facilities are requiring patients to wait in their car until they are called into their appointment, eliminating the need for a waiting room. With the increasing use of AI, tele-health, and smart biometric measurements, future waiting rooms may look very different in size and layout. Lobbies and waiting rooms may become smaller with more space dedicated to automated “self-check-in” processes. Healthcare facilities may find the benefit of continuing to check in patients from their vehicles and/or outdoor vestibules, further reducing the need for a waiting room.
Revised HVAC Systems
In our research, we have found that HVAC systems will be crucial to the future of building design in a world with airborne illness. In one of our current projects with a FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center), we are designing an HVAC system that utilizes UV lighting installed within the ductwork. As air passes through the duct, the UV lighting instantly kills pathogens, bacteria, and viruses. These types of systems have been around for a few years but more facilities are installing them with intention of promoting sanitary and anti-viral spreading practices. Further considerations for HVAC systems include increasing filtration levels within equipment to filter out not only bacteria and viruses, but dust and allergens as well. Increased use of outdoor air into HVAC systems can also promote infection control but must be balanced with the increased energy to heat or cool outdoor air.
At the peak of the pandemic, the best way to control infections is to limit person to person contact. Many health insurance providers and facilities offer tele-health services as a way to virtually meet with physicians for many types of non-urgent appointments. These digital appointments alleviate the in-person appointment load on facilities and medical practitioners while still providing patients with convenient access to care. This trend is influencing the layout of health centers as these physicians require quiet and private rooms in order to interact with their patients through screens and web conferencing. Although there will always be a need for in-person appointments, the rise of tele-health could minimize the need for large waiting rooms, reduce exam rooms, and potentially even reduce medical office space, allowing practitioners to provide digital care from home. Prior to the pandemic, many were reluctant to utilize this technology, particularly older generations that may not be as accustomed to technology. However, we are hearing that a lot of patients, including seniors, have adopted this new technology and likely will not want to go back to visiting their doctors in person unless absolutely necessary.
Biometric Measuring through Smart Phones and Devices
Many consumers already enjoy wearable smart devices that help track their activity, pulse, temperature, and even blood pressure or blood sugar. Some devices can even contact emergency services in a serious event such as a fall or an alarming drop in biometric readings. These everyday smart devices can be utilized in the healthcare setting to provide quicker service to patients, better data for doctors to understand health trends, and alleviate routine checks. Biometric measuring through everyday handheld devices can ease the load of appointments for doctors and nurses while still monitoring patient conditions and can send and store data as necessary.
Utilizing Artificial Intelligence
The future of healthcare is coming through artificial intelligence. AI has been used within the healthcare industry for years now, but its utilization is becoming more essential for virus control, assisting with operations, and increasing accuracy of diagnoses. Aside from its operational benefits, AI can help automate administrative tasks and other routine processes such as blood pressure, temperature, and weight checks. This allows patients to self-check-in a lot faster without having to wait for a nurse practitioner. In some facilities, AI is being employed for its deep learning algorithms to assist with diagnoses. By rapidly evaluating CT scans, AI can localize indications of certain diseases and virus infections (including COVID-19) with an accuracy of up to 90%. AI is also being used to detect skin cancer melanomas with 95% accuracy, which not only is preferred by patients to maintain their dignity but is more accurate than a doctor could diagnose with the naked eye. With the use of AI, healthcare facilities are able to manage more appointments, reduce the costs and time of testing and scans, and provide doctors with more time to focus on treatments and patient care.
Although healthcare facilities and clinics are created to handle infection and disease control, this year has shown us that we need to provide more design solutions in order to proactively combat possible future events. Additionally, designs of these spaces need to be flexible to allow for rapidly advancing technologies to be easily integrated. Throughout our “Design: A New Way Forward” series, we have learned that many innovative design ideas were uncovered previously to the pandemic. However, the immediate demands and desires of users, consumers, and patients have evolved – pressing the need for these design ideas to be implemented even sooner. At SGPA, we believe that we can enrich people’s lives through design but now, we understand how it can move us all forward to promote health and wellness.