Over the past few months, we’ve seen our beloved hospitality industry all but disappear in the name of social distancing and public health. Restaurants have shuttered, or shifted to delivery and take-out only, earning a small fraction of their projected profits (and indeed, often only a small fraction of their rent). The simple, human pleasure of sharing a meal, traveling somewhere new, or gathering with friends now feels like a thing of the past.
Instead, we are shifting focus to the true essentials: food, shelter, and health. This renewed focus, though, has shed light on the shortcomings and inaccessibility of these necessities for so many people, and perhaps none more so than healthcare.
Many of the problems within our healthcare system are nuanced, complicated, and frankly out of our wheelhouse. However, we’ve worked with some of the top healthcare providers in the country to develop novel experiences and design human-centric spaces — for patients and providers alike — that explore the potential for the future of healthcare. Now, in the new era of COVID-19, that future may be closer than we think.
Illustration by Tess Rubinstein for UCSF
The Hub-and-Spoke: Stratification of Health Service Spaces
The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on not only the flaws in our healthcare system but those in our healthcare spaces, too. General doctors’ offices are ill-equipped to safely treat and diagnose patients; hospitals are overrun with those suffering from COVID-19, and unable to provide the care they need while maintaining a safe workspace for providers and fulfilling their daily function as a community healthcare provider.
The Hub-and-Spoke approach envisions a highly-efficient, symbiotic network of healthcare entities. At the center of the system are the “hubs” — hospitals and medical facilities equipped to deal with high-intensity and complex surgeries and treatments (say, for example, a global pandemic). Separate, support facilities —the “spokes” — extend into the community to provide urgent, outpatient, and preventative care. Though the facilities are separated physically, through considered design and technological infrastructure, innovative providers can create a cohesive and powerful new patient experience.
Provider-Centric Amenities: Hospital as a Modern Workspace
This moment is historic for many reasons, not the least of which is the unprecedented spotlight it has placed on our healthcare heroes — the providers who work every day to save lives while knowingly putting their own at risk. While doctors have always enjoyed some level of recognition, nurses and other support providers are historically under-recognized, which is often reflected in the facilities and amenities available to them. The comfort and happiness of providers has direct implications on the quality of care they are able to deliver to patients. Furthermore, sub-par facilities mean sub-par hygiene; today, providers are working against the design of hospitals to stay safe and provide patients with effective, efficient care.
The notion of provider-centric spaces follows a trend we’ve seen across modern workplaces, with companies designing corporate campuses and amenity-rich environments in order to keep employees engaged, content, and connected with one another. Why should hospitals and healthcare facilities be any different? Doctors and nurses spend long hours on their feet, often working overnight, sneaking moments of sleep on spare cots when they can. Imagine if we were to consider their journey in the same way a hotel designs the guest experience (or a tech company designing their flagship office), infusing moments of hospitality, socialization, and meaning throughout. A well-connected, well-nourished, and happy workforce — with access to showers and clean scrubs, healthy food and restful lodging — would vastly improve the quality of care they are able to provide.
Anticipatory Design: Future-Proofing Against the Unknown
People may debate how predictable this pandemic was, but nobody can argue that our healthcare environments were wholly unprepared for the unprecedented number of patients in need of care, beds, and ventilators. Entire hospital floors have been transformed into makeshift COVID units, while healthcare workers are lodging in now-empty college dorms. Some modern hospitals have been designed for flexibility with design and technology, but in this case, even flexibility wasn’t enough.
As an industry, healthcare needs to embrace anticipatory thinking; utilizing scientific data and research to predict pandemics and model responses to mitigate their impact. Beyond flexibility and responsiveness, healthcare must conceive new spaces and systems that can preempt threats, and take the responsibility of “flattening the curve” out of the public’s hand. Anticipatory design applies to everything from supply chain to hygiene, technology to staffing models.
Remote Medicine: Hospital-at-Home
As everyday hospitals have been transformed into COVID-treatment centers, other patients suffering from life-threatening ailments are forced to stay home out of fear of contracting the virus. This paradox, though, is nothing new — HAI, or healthcare acquired infections, account for millions of infections and nearly a hundred thousand deaths each year. Today, the risk of contracting disease by visiting a hospital has only increased, and the potential of remote medicine has come into focus.
Remote medical care has a plethora of benefits: not only does it eliminate risk of HAI, it also ensures that hospital beds are reserved for those who need them most. However, these outcomes rely on a providers ability to deliver precise and effective off-site care. From monitoring patients’ progress, diet, and medication to providing mental and emotional human support, the remote medicine experience needs to be explored holistically — technological solutions, though necessary, are not enough on their own. We’ve observed first-hand how cohesive, human-centered design, engaging communications, and a beautiful, intuitive user experience can promote desired behaviors in consumers. For healthcare providers, these are often the last investments to be considered, if at all, but they are critical components of a successful hospital-at-home and remote recovery system.
Community Wellness: Living Better, Together
One of the ultimate flaws of the American healthcare system — and perhaps human psychology at large — is that we only seek medical attention when we are already sick or injured. Hospitals, despite the value of their work and the communities they serve, are not seen as desirable neighborhood amenities such as, say, museums, restaurants, and parks. As healthy individuals, we want to know that they’re close when we need them, but on a day-to-day basis, hospitals are places we’d rather avoid.
American hospitals are in need of a drastic repositioning — from cultural voids to cultural institutions. Through events, amenities, or active outreach and local community partnerships, hospitals could play a much more meaningful role in the everyday lives of their neighbors. As highly-valued and involved members of their local communities, hospitals could establish a rapport with individuals who might otherwise never have stepped through their doors. If these individuals were to become patients, providers would be prepared with a complete understanding of their unique medical history and lifestyle factors.
COVID-19 has revealed how inefficient, ineffective, and even inhuman the American healthcare system is today. However, it’s also forced us to experiment, and adapt, and fast-track change in order to save lives. In the wake of this pandemic is an opportunity for a revolutionized healthcare experience that improves health and quality of life for everyone.