The infiltration of technology into all aspects of healthcare is irreversible—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. From personal health-monitoring devices to electronic records to medical nanotechnology, there’s really no limit to the ways technology can potentially be applied to every facet of our well-being.

But for those who build healthcare environments, the challenges are mounting. So much uncertainty surrounds how to design the physical space to accommodate the rapidly shifting sands of progress. Precisely because of technology’s pervasiveness and variety—what does a “typical” patient room look like that has to integrate tablet-wielding doctors, wall-mounted monitors, as-yet-unthought-of medical equipment and more?—there’s not a lot to benchmark against, and too many unknowns.

But there’s one area of the hospital where questions about how to design for technology are front and center—and, fortunately, where answers (and best practices) are starting to emerge. Hybrid operating rooms (ORs), which combine diagnostic systems and surgical facilities in one space, are growing in popularity. The specific technology necessary to support hybrid ORs drives the design of the environment, so much so that medical equipment manufacturers are regularly invited to the table right from the start.

When I began planning an article on the topic of hybrid ORs for our August issue, it didn’t take long to realize how much great raw material we had to work with. Just type “hybrid OR” into our search box (and keep an eye out for the three new articles on the topic coming soon). At the Healthcare Design Conference in November, there’s a whole track devoted to “Redefining the OR.”

For those spaces beyond the OR, alas, the technology design questions remain. But there are glimpses of the future to be found. Managing Editor Jennifer Kovacs Silvis was in New York a few months ago moderating a panel discussion on technology and healthcare, where she spoke with Dave Ruthven, an architect and fellow with nonprofit Nxt Health (New York), the group behind Patient Room 2020. The details of the technology-packed space—a prototype of which has been built at the DuPont Corian Design Studio in New York—had event attendees buzzing and excited about the possibilities.


 

So the frustration continues, but so does the anticipation. And as technology advances minute by minute, the best you can do is stay on top of it all, designing flexible spaces and tech-ready infrastructure, while guiding health systems to think beyond what already exists. That’s how to make sure you hold onto your own space at the table.