By Jackie Drees
Digital health and tech adoption have skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many hospitals and health systems adopting technologies that support remote patient monitoring, two-way video communications and more.
Here, five hospital executives share predictions for what they think the hospital room of the future will look like in the next five years.
Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Tom Andriola. Vice Chancellor of Information, Technology and Data and Chief Data Officer at UC Irvine and UCI Health (Irvine, Calif.). We all see the trend for the concept of a hospital room changing in the way that it won’t be confined and necessarily need to be physically located in an actual hospital to care for patients. With the deployment of existing, mature technologies such as remote monitoring, artificial intelligence-driven surveillance and more sophisticated mobile lab, imaging and services delivery, we will increasingly be able to deliver effective, safe care in the home setting.
However, switching gears to the traditional hospital setting and room, we see significant opportunity for improvement for both medical professionals and for patients. For patients, we see creating better experiences in their stays through personalization of room amenities and services, tiny home concepts to better accommodate families and solutions using IoT, AI and wearables that make the room more quiet, safe and even provide for mobility where appropriate.
For professionals caring for patients, technologies will offer more intelligent, real-time delivery of data to where they are and not confined to a single place; for example, to a nursing station. Voice assistant, wearable-based alerts will be used to monitor for sounds that indicate a patient safety issue and immediately alert the care team. Mobility and miniaturization will allow more services to happen in the room, allowing for shorter cycle times and reduced risks. And finally, if we can figure out the great balancing act around augmented intelligence, we can do a better job making the right decision for the patient at the right time while having better predictive capability to minimize adverse events.
Nick Patel, MD. Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.). Hospital rooms are going through a metamorphosis. They are evolving from stale, boring, non-connected rooms for the sick to more vibrate, engaging, connected rooms for healing. Rooms that listen to the patient’s voice commands, have large smart TVs that are telehealth ready, smart beds that detect movement and reduce risk of stasis ulcers, patient-facing tablets, radio-frequency identifications for beaconing, biostatic surfaces, intelligent ambient voice dictation for easier medical documentation, virtual reality to send patients on sensory journeys, and have AI-enabled sensors for detection of falls and monitoring progress of the patient. The hospital rooms themselves will be designed to promote well being by emulating a more homey feel. But the most evolutionary change coming to hospital rooms of the future is that they will be in your own home. For certain acute conditions, the hospital room will come to you. You will be able to convalesce in the comfort of your own home by using portable technology and next-generation healthcare equipment. This will allow for high quality care to be rendered in a person’s home by medical professionals both onsite and virtually. The good news is that some of these exciting changes are already here.
Albert Chan, MD. Chief of Digital Patient Experience at Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.). I think the larger question is, “How do we transition from a world in which ‘digital’ is the enabling agent to a world in which ‘digital’ is part of the treatment itself?” Digital care transcends walls, which is part of the beauty and the value. More ‘hospital at home’ offerings are under exploration, which include advancements in remote patient monitoring, virtual consults and digital therapeutics to further support clinical teams caring for the patient. It’s really about creating an enhanced care experience — for the patient and the provider — where the settings are limitless.
Daniel Durand, MD. Chief Clinical Officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore). Over the next few years, hospital rooms will get a whole lot smarter. The physical space of the hospital will be gradually digitized until virtually every object and sensor becomes part of the so-called ‘Internet of Things.’ These innovations can broadly be categorized as either clinical or experiential, though some will be both. Clinical innovations will involve gathering ever more ‘signals’ from the patient (infrared, sound, electrophysiology, pulse-oximeter, facial expression, etc.) to be sifted in real time through machine-learning algorithms that will help physicians refine their understanding of diagnosis and prognosis in ways we can only imagine today. Experiential innovations will allow health systems and their partners to take a page from Netflix, using the engagement opportunity of the acute care episode to stream digital content to patients and families through TVs, tablets and their own devices from home. The most digitally savvy systems will carefully study the way that each patient and family interact with this content in order to glean important information on how to best engage them once they leave the hospital.
Mark Weisman, MD. Chief Medical Information Officer at Tidal Health System (Salisbury, Md.).If we learned anything over the last year, it is the need for flexibility, so the hospital room of the future will have that capability to quickly become an intensive care unit room, which requires some advanced thought around space, electrical wiring and fiber placement. In terms of gadgets, I picture AI assistants playing a role where a patient can simply ask when their next pain medication is due, when their procedure is going to happen, calling the nurse or identifying which physician is on call today. The room will have basic automation for lights, blinds and temperature that can all be controlled using the AI assistant. The rooms will be equipped with web cameras and monitors on a swing arm so a virtual visit with a member of the care team is built right into the infrastructure. This will also allow a family that is remote to be with their loved one virtually when being there in person isn’t possible. Vital sign monitoring will be done using touchless sensors that can capture heart rate and respiratory rate, and detect movement that places a patient at a risk for a fall. I don’t know if robotics will be advanced enough within five years for a robotic nursing assistant to help with tasks such as feeding, turning and bathing, but we will probably see that within 10 years.