The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of strengthening healthcare systems around the world. While the immediate impact of the pandemic recedes, challenges such as a continually increasing and ageing population, tighter budgets, fewer medical staff and higher patient expectations mean healthcare services could come under increasing pressure in the decades to come.
In collaboration with Future Agenda, we gathered insights from over 40 expert workshops and engaged in additional discussions around the world with researchers, regulators, doctors, healthcare professionals (HCPs), providers and payers – as well as health system leaders and public health specialists – to examine the global shifts taking place in healthcare provision.
We found that as well as the pressures highlighted earlier, a number of common drivers are reconfiguring healthcare systems around the world. Healthcare is increasingly shifting towards patient-centred care to improve the patient experience and deliver better health outcomes. While this shift takes different forms from country to country, four systemic trends are driving systemic transformation. The first is wellbeing – a focus on prevention to reduce the need for hospital treatment. Secondly, there is a growing move away from cost-based care to value-based care, delivering improved social outcomes. Providing more healthcare services outside hospitals to more convenient, localised sites will bring care into the community and closer to home. Lastly, smarter, better integrated infrastructure will link healthcare systems to the social determinants of health.
As a result of our workshops, we also identified six key trends which are likely to change the way we design hospitals and healthcare facilities by 2030:
Lasting pandemic impact
Healthcare providers want to prepare for the disruptive impact of future pandemics, especially with the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. COVID-19 led to a step-change in the adoption of telemedicine and virtual consultation, and many believe some of these changes will be permanent. High-rise hospital buildings may become less appealing, especially in the most affected cities, leading to more debate over factors such as access, cost, footprint, colocation and contagion risk. Visitor access will be increasingly driven by digital identification and verification that entrants aren’t carrying an infectious disease. There may also be a redesign of patient and staff journeys within the facility, with a greater separation of admission and discharge points as well as theatre entry and exit. In terms of design elements, designers will increasingly specify smarter materials which are self-monitoring and self-cleaning.
Better connected hospitals
A focus on prevention and a shift towards ‘care anywhere’ will be reflected in hospitals which are integrated as part of the broader health ecosystem, including homes and community care. This will be enabled by the increasing roll-out of 5G connectivity, which means that everything that can have a smart connection will do, while the development of the Internet of Things will see many elements become interoperable to facilitate a better connection between health and the city ecosystem. This is particularly important as the world increasingly moves towards smart cities, with digital technology supporting better opportunities for connected citizens.
With global efforts to tackle climate change – and many leading cities aiming to become net-zero by 2050 – hospitals are increasingly being designed to drive down capital and operational carbon emissions, water use and overall energy demands. However, aiding national carbon reduction plans may not be enough. Hospitals need to adapt to climate change impacts, with ‘locked-in’ climate change set to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Resilience to storms, flooding, extreme temperatures and wildfires is increasingly important in a growing number of locations, leading to a rethink of the core design of critical infrastructure.
Design for flexibility
To accommodate changing future demands, more flexible approaches to facility layout, structure and use will be essential. Within buildings, there may be more distinct zoning, separating patient admission, treatment and ancillary activities into separate areas which can be adapted if needed. More flexibility will also be designed into hospital systems, such as networks of connected nursing stations with real-time monitoring to allow overnight stay supervision to become the norm.
Patient at the centre
A desire for more patient-centric healthcare facilities will see patients, carers, staff and other key stakeholders increasingly included at the design stage to create more human-centred environments. It is important to build the next generation’s infrastructure with human-centricity in mind from the very start. Changes could include new room thresholds which separate patients and their families from medical staff so healthcare professionals can support patients while minimising personal risk. Some see a move towards flexible patient ‘pods’ rather than wards, where assessment, diagnosis and treatment takes place in a more personalised and relaxed environment. Patient recovery could also be migrated to community hospitals or even alternate accommodation such as local hotels where rooms are modified to enable remote supervision and diagnosis.
A digital-first approach will underpin facilities planning from the initial brief to maximise the benefits of technology, breakdown silos and enable connected care. From digital operating theatres to robotics and artificial intelligence, utilising smart technology will be the transformative foundation to enable better performance, customer experience and health outcomes.
While the health sector faces growing challenges, adapting to these core design trends will help to ensure hospitals of the future better serve their communities and adapt to changing needs.
Yara Aboelwafa, technical advisor, healthcare