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From AI to at-home care: The hospital of the future looks nothing like today’s

And the future could be here a lot faster than people thought.

From AI to at-home care: The hospital of the future looks nothing like today’s
[Image: grivina/iStock]

The hospital of the future will be smaller, specialized, flexible, and more comfortable. And, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it could be coming a lot sooner than anyone expected.

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These are the main findings of a new report from Deloitte Consulting on future business models that will reshape the form and function of hospitals around the world. Researchers surveyed health, technology, and customer experience workers in mid-January, just before the spread and severity of the coronavirus was apparent, and then interviewed a handful of experts in April. The resulting feedback showed that people expect hospital changes to accelerate. “The timeline is significantly shortened in terms of when people thought these changes would take place,” says Kulleni Gebreyes, a principal at Deloitte and a coauthor of the report.

Here are a few ways experts think hospitals and the hospital experience will change in a post-pandemic world.

Inpatient to outpatient, outpatient to care at home

“Care is going to shift away from the hospital setting,” Gebreyes says. The report suggests that more patient care will shift out of the traditional hospital setting. Except for the most intensive surgeries and acute or emergency care, what was once done in a hospital room may soon be done in a physician’s office or at a patient’s home. This includes procedures and treatments such as chemotherapy, x-rays, and even childbirth, Gebreyes says.

These shifts are possible because the technology needed to perform a lot of hospital care is becoming more mobile. Hospitals are able to explore telehealth and what is known as “hospital at home,” where doctors and nurses come to patients to provide most care. And, as the coronavirus set in, patients became even more open to receiving care without visiting the hospital.

“When we first talked to the crowd in January, the idea was care will shift away because the industry itself is looking for the ability to deliver care at a lower cost. That was the big driver,” Gebreyes says. “By April we were seeing [that] . . . consumers will feel safer getting care outside of the hospital.”

Adapting what’s there

As the setting of care shifts, the hospital itself will change shape to accommodate a smaller range of treatments. What it offers will become more specialized, and the physical spaces of the hospital will be adapted to meet these narrower demands.

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Gebreyes says that the sharp reduction of non-coronavirus-related hospital visits during the pandemic has pushed many hospital executives to start thinking about how to adapt. “They’re cash-strapped because revenue has gone down,” she says. “So as they think about their budget and funding and what they’re going to invest their capital in, this is a big question.”

At first these changes will be achieved through investments in technology, she says. That may come in the form of new equipment that can more easily move from room to room, as well as devices for patient monitoring. Eventually, hospitals are likely to rely on predictive technology and data that can help them better understand patient needs and potential surges before they happen. Of the survey respondents, 83% said artificial intelligence and machine learning would be the most likely to transform health care over the next 10 years.

Flexible rooms and “smart” spaces

In the longer term, the hospital room as we know it will completely change into what Gebreyes calls a “smart room.” Currently, hospitals have several different types of rooms that are configured to handle different services and patient states—from emergency care to trauma care to surgery to recovery. Patients are often shuttled from one to the other, increasing exposure to infections.

The hospital rooms of the future will be something closer to an all-in-one setting. With movable walls and embedded technology, these rooms will be flexible and adaptable to different services at different times. The room a patient is treated in for a broken limb or a stroke will be the same room where they are monitored and recover. Open-heart surgery, on the other hand, will likely remain a job for a specialized operation room.

These specialized “smart” rooms will likely come only when hospitals undergo major renovations or rebuilds. “I think the modularity has to be built from the ground up,” Gebreyes says.

From hospital to hospitality

As hospitals reduce their on-site offerings, they’ll likely have more space to use for other purposes. Gebreyes suggests they’ll begin to prioritize the user experience of their physical settings, including space for families to stay overnight.

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Such hospitality-focused hospitals could have restaurants, shops, and even grocery stores to serve both patients’ families and hospital caregivers. “It would become more of an all-inclusive care for you as a person, and care for the caregiver who’s caring for you,” Gebreyes says.

These types of changes don’t have to wait for a complete hospital redesign, though. As services shift off-site, Gebreyes says, hospitals will likely adapt some of these spaces to improve the experience of coming to the hospital. “I think the starting point is really revamping the space that exists,” she says. “It’s creating green spaces within a hospital where you have walkways and on-site amenities.”

Some of these changes may take years to materialize. But as the impacts of the coronavirus change how people see and experience hospitals, the buildings they occupy and the services they provide will transform in response.

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