“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”
William Arthur Ward
In March 2023, Australian healthcare leaders and practitioners will come together to explore key facets of healthcare including digital transformation, aged care, innovation and future workforce. Australian Healthcare Week envisages a collaborative, integrated health system. Key sponsors include the Commonwealth Bank, Hospital Products Australia and Q-bital Healthcare Solutions.
COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of change in healthcare. It has exposed many long-standing difficulties such as underfunding, understaffing, cracks in the continuity of care, and inflexible infrastructure ill-suited to changing needs.
Healthcare professionals and facilities managers work around these obstacles every day. Australian Healthcare Week provides a rare opportunity to lift your eyes above the relentless daily demands and contribute your experience, insights and creativity to reimagining the role and purpose of healthcare facilities.
Albert Einstein described imagination as ‘the preview of life’s coming attractions’. It’s a timely reminder of the role of imagination in creating the healthcare spaces we need.
Infrastructure thoughts from healthcare professionals
Australian Healthcare Week (AHW) published a ‘state of the industry’ report in late 2021 that explored the pandemic effect and discussed priorities for 2022 and beyond. It included survey responses from healthcare professionals and leaders, 82% of whom worked in patient-facing roles at the coalface.
Of those surveyed, 75% believed that hospital design and healthcare delivery, in the long run, will be changed by the impacts of the pandemic
When asked how the pandemic had changed hospital design and healthcare delivery, 78% said their working environment had either been changed by the pandemic or should have been.
When asked about what challenges, pressures or trends would be the primary reason for infrastructure investments beyond the pandemic, 44% said capacity challenges and 12% said dated infrastructure.
So, what could new infrastructure investments look like for future healthcare?
The role and purpose of healthcare facilities for a new era
When we seek to reimagine healthcare, we might consider several factors, most of which can be achieved through the use of mobile and modular infrastructure.
Embedding video telehealth
The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of telehealth and created new opportunities for more timely, convenient patient care.
Video telehealth means doctors:
- In tertiary hospitals can provide outpatient care to rural patients while reducing the need for them to trek into the city
- Can continue to support patients waiting for elective surgery or expand a hospital in the home service to free up hospital beds.
- Working in virtual emergency departments can triage and treat many patients online and so reduce the numbers presenting to overcrowded emergency departments.
But video telehealth must still be conducted with due regard for patient privacy. It can’t be delivered in a corridor or from a shared clinical station in the centre of a ward.
Hospitals need to create private offices for video telehealth and to invest in the right digital infrastructure to ensure integration with other hospital systems.
The COVID-19 virus has shown a remarkable ability to mutate. New variants continue to emerge and even experts cannot predict when the pandemic might finally end. Even when it does eventually abate, there will still be seasonal influenza and other respiratory viruses to combat.
AHW’s state of the industry report observes that,
By adjusting workflows and the physical space in the workplace, patients are able to be kept separate, and further hygiene procedures play a major role in keeping cross-infection within wards to a minimum…
Ultimately, healthcare workers believe that orienting future design towards preventing pandemics is beneficial, as many believe that further adjustments to workplaces are necessary as a precautionary measure for the next significant healthcare event.
That means health infrastructure featuring negative pressure rooms and HEPA-filtered air as standard. It also means the ability to segregate patients to prevent cross-infection. That may be particularly important in the emergency department where infection status is not known before patients present.
Bushfire, floods, planned or emergency refurbishment of hospital facilities – there are many reasons why hospitals need the ability to pivot.
Historically that has been difficult. Hospitals are like big ships that can only turn slowly. New capital works take years to reach fruition.
Tailored mobile and modular infrastructure solutions, on the other hand, can be deployed within a short time frame, designed bespoke to suit the particular needs of the commissioning hospital. This is flexibility at its high-quality best.
Hospitals are large polluters. Healthcare is responsible for about 7% of Australia’s overall carbon emissions – and hospitals are responsible for about half of that.
Viewed more positively, that means hospitals have a unique opportunity to improve the environment. Many are doing just that – installing solar panels, changing their choice of anaesthetic gases, curtailing waste and making wiser choices throughout their supply chains.
When it comes to healthcare infrastructure, there are many advantages to using mobile and modular construction, which tends to produce less waste and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
For all these reasons and more, Australia’s hospitals need enhanced capacity. Older people and patients with chronic conditions are high users of health services and feature disproportionately in admissions statistics.
Hospitals can create additional capacity relatively easily by commissioning flexible infrastructure, be it ward beds or operating rooms.