Top 7 Tips to Build the Ultimate Patient Room of the Future

By Robin Cavanagh, chief technology officer, GetWellNetwork.

Robin Cavanaugh Headshot
Robin Cavanagh

We’ve come so far in the medical field, from a treatment perspective. Over the past twenty years, major breakthroughs have occurred in all aspects of the healthcare industry, from pharmaceuticals to minimally invasive surgery. Isn’t it time we saw that same type of revolution, when it comes to the patient journey?

The “Patient Room of the Future” sounds futuristic, but many of the technologies needed to create an innovative space for optimal healing already exists. To make this patient-centered environment a reality, hospitals must find new ways to seamlessly integrate technology, like cloud computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and IoT – doing so will facilitate better patient engagement, improve communication, and offer patients more control over their surroundings.

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is one hospital that recently recognized the need to revolutionize their patients’ experience and decided to reimagine a futuristic environment, combining technology with human-centered design principles to give patients choice, control and comfort—key components in the healing process.

Based on MUSC’s experience, here are seven tips for success when it comes to other organizations looking to create the next iteration of the patient room:

  1. Involve patients and families in most, if not all decisions.

Creating the best patient room requires a team of people working collaboratively and bringing different perspectives to the table. While it’s critical to include doctors and nurses on this team, it’s also important to engage patients and families and hear what they’re looking for firsthand. In creating MUSC’s new children’s hospital, the organization formed 26 teams made up of doctors, nurses and family members, and collectively these teams – not architects – designed the new patient rooms. Involving patients and families in this process was invaluable and brought up conversations that the hospital’s team wouldn’t have had otherwise.

  1. Develop a set of guiding principles for what your vision is and then stick with them.

Before getting started, organizations should hone in on their vision for the project and think through how they are going to get there. It may take multiple visioning sessions to come to an agreement on these guiding principles, but it’s important to think deeply about what the ideal experience will look like and how each decision will tie back to the patient. Organizations also must consider which vendors will help them achieve their goals and objectives. When MUSC began the process, they discussed the need to partner with vendors that believed in the hospital’s vision and could help them seamlessly integrate technologies from various vendors to create an enhanced experience for their patients.

  1. Establish strong, trusting relationships with your leadership team and your strategic partners.

Constant communication and transparency are keys to success when undertaking this type of project. The closer that strategic partners work with the leadership team, the more likely the partners will understand the leadership team’s vision and, therefore, more likely to align on recommendations. As part of the technology planning at MUSC, vendors constantly mapped out and presented different use cases to the leadership team, providing opportunities to confirm how the team envisioned the technology functioning or bring up other barriers that the vendors needed to consider.

  1. Get comfortable with perpetual uncertainty or the unknown.

While it’s important to develop a vision and guiding principles at the get-go, the delivery of the vision does not to be fully baked when the project begins. Organizations should learn to embrace the unknown factors of the initiative and accept the reality of adjusting as time goes on. For MUSC, their vision continues to evolve even now that their new patient rooms are open and they are finding ways to build upon their initial vision to further improve the patient experience.

  1. Test the technology outside of the “safety zone.”

One of the best ways to determine whether a technology will be successful in an organization is by letting the end user try it out during the testing phase. By expanding this phase to include end users, hospitals will enable clinicians and patients to be co-designers in the process and ensure the technology will be valuable for the people who will actually use it on a daily basis. Getting insight from end users early on will help organizations work with the vendor to iron out kinks, make sure the technology is personalized as appropriate, and avoid bigger problems down the road.

  1. Look for technologies that talk to each other.

Successful technology implementations hinge on seamless connections between all the hardware and software in the room. Before selecting new technology, hospitals should ensure that it will be interoperable with other solutions they are currently using or planning to implement. Creating a connected ecosystem will result in an improved digital experience and fluid workflow that promotes transparency, access, inclusion and engagement.

  1. Remember to play the long game.

Once the new rooms are created, the project isn’t over. Enhancing these rooms is a long-term commitment and organizations will need to adjust the rooms as technology advances, patient expectations change and healthcare evolves. Keeping this in mind, organizations should build for flexibility and scalability by starting with a well-crafted strategy that lays the foundation for future investments.

The patient room of the future strikes a balance between optimizing environmental elements and innovative technology through a more holistic and intuitive design. Creating this improved patient experience does not happen overnight and requires developing a comprehensive strategy that centers around the end users. Through harnessing the power of digital health and working collaboratively with all stakeholders – hospital leadership, technology vendors, clinicians and patients – hospitals can successfully build modern patient rooms that will ultimately lead to improved satisfaction and outcomes for all involved.

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