Bedless Hospitals: Tracking the Healthcare Industry's Shift Toward Outpatient Care


Hospital beds are disappearing across the country, and it's not because there are fewer patients to fill them. It's because healthcare organizations are finding powerful new opportunities in rethinking how and where care is delivered – beyond the four walls of the hospital.

As the healthcare industry faces continuing policy uncertainty and cost pressures, many large healthcare organizations are going where the patients are. They're creating networks of facilities that can serve patients in their own communities—while keeping operational costs in line. Driven by the rise of healthcare consumerism, designers and architects are being challenged to reimagine the design of healthcare facilities and the role technology will play to meet the need for a healthcare "anytime" approach.

With the emergence of new and different types of healthcare facilities, from urgent care clinics to micro-hospitals to freestanding emergency departments (EDs), healthcare is increasingly happening outside the hospital walls and traditional doctors' offices. In addition, medical wearables and advanced telemedicine technologies are enabling patients to connect to their caregivers without even leaving home. Even acute conditions can sometimes be treated remotely. Hospitals creating electronic intensive care units (eICUs) that offer ICU and ED medical expertise to patients down the hall—or in another city. Take, for example, Mercy Hospital's Virtual Care Center located just outside of St. Louis.

Healthcare organizations have opportunities to explore elements leveraging big data and predictive analytics to make evidence-based decisions. For instance, IoT point of care devices offer a key data stream that helps determine compliance with care plans as well as risks of predictable failing health indicators. Monitoring patient data with IoT devices allows providers to intervene and actively take a role in improving patient's health and reducing risks from a remote setting. IoT as-a-Service and the data collected from remote devices will play a key role in prevention and could change the way that providers deliver care in non-traditional settings.

Aritificial intelligence, too, will likely be an significant element shaping the 'bedless' hospital of the future. Healthcare designers and strategists including technology teams should consider how advanced A.I. systems will impact facility projects. To that point, new types of medical startups like Forward in San Francisco, are demonstrating what the doctor's office of the future will look like using A.I. and connected tools. Forward has a proprietary A.I. to help its doctors quickly source through medical information and compare it to patients' health data.

These innovative approaches to healthcare service delivery offer the promise of new revenue streams and cost management opportunities for healthcare providers and better outcomes for patient communities. In the design of the next generation of healthcare facilities, designers and technology teams must work in tandem to enable a connected care ecosystem and collaborate with vendors to integrate sound technology strategies early in the design process.

Along the advantages of reduced costs and improved patient outcomes in high-tech healthcare comes the need to address security risks, which I'll cover in my next blog post. When you're a healthcare provider, you can never assume that your devices and networks are protected unless you've actively taken steps to secure them. 

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June 15, 2017

Authored by Corey Gaarde, former Director of Healthcare Design & Transformation at Burwood Group.