Recently in Spain, activists staged the world’s first holographic political demonstration to protest a newly passed law that fines protesters for convening outside government buildings. Photographs of the event showed thousands of holograms marching in front of the parliament in Madrid.

This got me thinking: We already have virtual doctor’s visits via kiosks and home computers, making care not only more convenient but available to people who live in remote areas. Additionally, we can send emails to our doctors 24/7 and attach photographs of issues concerning us. There are robots that move about some healthcare facilities, displaying the faces of caregivers on monitors as they smile, engage passersby, and visit patients. Taking this one step further, Toshiba has introduced a humanoid robot that will start working in Japanese retail spaces later this year. Might healthcare not be too far behind?

There is a slew of new digital diagnostic equipment available, such as the digital otoscope that can capture a high-quality video of one’s ear canal and send it to a doctor for review, or the stethoscope that creates a digital audio file that can be shared.

Thinking about the protest in Spain, how long will it be until we have a holographic doctor visit us at home or appear in our workplace or exam room? Will we find the perfect blending of humanity and technology that will allow quality care to be accessible in all areas of the globe, at an affordable cost, and still allow for the always important caregiver-patient relationship to develop?

Care delivery models are just one aspect of our healthcare system that stands to change dramatically with the onslaught of new and emerging technologies.

I recently had lunch with a past Healthcare Design Conference keynote speaker, Mickey McManus. As a follow-up to his book Trillions, Mick is currently a visiting fellow at Autodesk, exploring ideas around the next big thing to follow the Internet of Things. He talked about a world that will one day be so saturated with computation that rather than information living in computers, we’ll instead live within the information. He went on to explain that information will feed machines in a way that they will learn as they go, make decisions in the same way that the human mind does, and in time, even make decisions for us. It’s the same technology that’s being used to create the self-driving automobile.

At The Center, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking around technology and its impact on healthcare delivery, healthcare quality, the patient experience, and the overall cost of care. Later this year, we’re planning to hold a think tank-style meeting with some of the best and brightest in the area of technological advances in healthcare, both from within our industry as well as from other industries. The idea is to start to envision what the digital hospital and healthcare experience of the future will look like and what problems it will present that we, as creators and custodians of the built environment, can help to solve.

The ideas and knowledge from this collaborative will in time make their way into new tools and resources to support innovative solutions to old and emerging concerns. Keep your eye out for more information this fall. If you’d like to follow the progress of this developing new project or if you have any thoughts or ideas about this topic, we’d love to hear about them.