This Hospital Room of the Future is Designed for Better Care

Patient Room 2020, a design that is not afraid to take chances, but is also grounded in functionalism.

What do you remember about the last time you were in the hospital? Was the food bad, or did it exceed your expectations? Did your room have a view of nature, or of the rooftop condenser unit on a neighboring building? When you left the hospital, did you feel refreshed and empowered, or just discharged?

The fact that most hospitals still use the term "discharge" for departing patients—which is also defined as the release of a burden—says a lot about the current state of our healthcare system. Even the use of the words "healthcare system" contains an implicit message to patients: you are a part, not the whole. When you reflect on a Friday night outing at the movies, do you turn to your friend and say, “Boy, did I have a great experience in that theater system, right up until they discharged me.” No, of course not. The reason for this isn’t because the system doesn’t exist, but rather that it has been designed to disappear within the experience, so that people forget they are even immersed in an engineered process. The automotive, entertainment, food and beverage, and retail industries work tirelessly to craft user-centric experiences, so why does an industry with so much invested in it (17.9 percent of the U.S.’s total GDP), and so much advanced technology (see doctor robots) have so much trouble with customer relations?

The answer is complicated. In all fairness, healthcare providers are at somewhat of a disadvantage. None of the aforementioned industries have to cater to a user group that is simultaneously going through physical discomfort and life-altering emotional turmoil. Throw in managing family interpersonal relations, an ambiguous payment process, and a constantly changing regulatory landscape, and you have a recipe for disaster. To further complicate matters, your services are so vital to the community that you can never shut down to retool anything, so you must build on top of existing inadequacies with Band-Aid, quick fix solutions. Under this collective pressure, it is no surprise that healthcare has had trouble evolving to match the increasing demands of a more connected and informed 21st Century consumer.

But what if you had an opportunity to shed all of this chaos, and start from scratch? What would your hospital look like if it were completely designed around the most important element—the patient experience? Every single decision would radiate out from this central point, from medication administration, to billing processes, and so on. While this might seem to be a utopian vision at face value, this kind of exercise is vitally needed in order to convince people that change is possible in healthcare, and attain incremental changes in the near future.

In healthcare, only a few systems have the luxury of investing in this type of experimental design process. But what if there was an open platform for designers, healthcare providers, and industry insiders to come together to craft a new patient experience? Enter NXT Health.

As a designer, you are always balancing creative freedom with practical reality. When NXT Health approached me to join a team in creating a “patient room of the future,” I was afforded an open platform to engage with other designers, healthcare providers, and industry experts to refine any concepts that evolved during the creative process, something that seldom occurs in traditional practice. What we built together didn’t have to be perfect (prototypes never are), and the concepts were never allowed to stray from the central purpose of improving the patient experience.

The end result is Patient Room 2020, a design that is not afraid to take chances, but is also grounded in functionalism and tied to solving real world challenges facing modern healthcare organizations, such as infection control, patient/family engagement and optimizing caregiver efficacy. The prototype installation at the DuPont™ Corian® Design Studio in New York features many innovative concepts that were generated during the collaborative process, including a sink that illuminates to encourage staff handwashing, a technologically enhanced overbed table that gives patients a bedside control center, and a bathroom that has the ability to morph into numerous configurations based on user needs.

The diversity of conversations that are just beginning to evolve around this unique concept is the true value that is being created by the Patient Room 2020 effort. The purpose was never to just build one room, or to prescribe the right way of designing hospital spaces. Instead, it represents a larger vision of the potential that an open, collaborative, nonprofit design platform has to improve our healthcare experiences in the 21st Century.

Over the next year, the team is actively seeking healthcare organizations and support to realize and evaluate some of the Patient Room 2020 concepts in a live hospital setting, and we’d love to hear from you.

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