The end of this year’s Healthcare Design (HCD) Expo & Conference wrapped up with a vision of the future, one that attendees who plan, design, and build healthcare facilities might not be expecting—a future without walls.
Susan Dentzer, president and CEO of Network for Excellence in Health Innovations, U.S. healthcare and health policy, closed three days in Houston filled with educational sessions, association meetings, facility tours, time with exhibitors, and more with a closing keynote talk that urged the audience to prepare for the unknown when it comes to federal and state policy changes.
“For a variety of reasons, we’re moving to a system in this country of more distributed healthcare, distributed outside of the conventional institutional settings. And there are multiple drivers of this, which include, for example, more people having health insurance than ever and therefore having access to the healthcare system. We’ll see how far that goes given the results of last week’s elections,” Dentzer said.
The high cost of healthcare in the United States resulting from a volume-driven system illustrates the need for more sustainable spending, she said, with remedies emerging such as moving to a system where positive health outcomes are rewarded and the health of the population is improved.
There are some changes already occurring in healthcare facilities. Dentzer reported inpatient care in hospitals has been trending down for several years while outpatient care is on the rise, and there’s no expectation of change over the next few years.
More health systems are looking for ways to try and stem the tide of emergency room visits, too. How can this challenge be met before people become seriously ill? “No matter how wonderful the facilities we build, no matter the health offerings, it won’t make a difference if outside factors don’t change,” she said, recommending solutions that bring broader thinking, creativity, and innovation.
For example, Promedica, headquartered in Ohio, has rolled out a program called “Come to the Table” that targets hunger as a health issue by providing fresh food to community members. Other solutions might include retail healthcare, micro hospitals, medical tourism, robotics, smart phones, drones, as well as telehealth. “This forces organizations to start thinking about health as a continuum, and it starts to change the buildings that are in the system,” she said.
As for how these initiatives might displace physical settings, Dentzer said it’s uncertain. And while need for inpatient beds, for example, might dwindle, others will emerge, such as the need for behavioral health beds.
As care evolves, Dentzer said healthcare design will have to evolve, too, by using more modular construction with a greater focus on environmentally friendly design and creating spaces that are primed for technology to change in the future.
“Build things that are flexible and adaptable to other purposes because we can bet that they will have to be adapted to a different purpose. May be even from the day they open their doors. This trend toward distributed healthcare is real,” says Dentzer.