Healthcare Design Trends: Enhancing Outcomes and Experiences
Talk about a disruptor - COVID-19 caused massive, global disruption of how we work and live. The devastating toll on millions of lives leaves those of us in its wake with one universal resolve: we must be better prepared for the next crisis. While trends follow tendency of human behavior, disruption alters the course of that tendency and as a result, leads human behavior. More than logic, our resolve tells us we must manage both.
COVID-19 has left us with varied perspective, reaction, and direction across the entire healthcare spectrum. While the modus operandi has remained consistently set on precaution, safety, and care, healthcare operators and workers have had to behave differently based on the unique settings in their environments. As we helped our clients manage, stabilize, and react, we recognized that a one-sized solution will not fit all. Senior healthcare operators completely shuttered their doors, while hospitals opened them widely. And still, outpatient facilities managed somewhere in between. Our perspective suggests the following additional trends as a result of the pandemic:
1. Decentralization/personalization will accelerate: Already in full gear, the trend of bringing healthcare to a location near you will not only continue but accelerate. Hospital based health systems recognized long ago that being in your community is the place to be for decentralized healthcare. Telemedicine will take full flight and shorten your commute even further. In-home services will continue to expand, especially within the senior healthcare segment. All healthcare environments will rely even more on technology to refine and deliver an intimate level of personalized services. Technology will also afford greater socialization while simultaneously social distancing, requiring IT to be a collaborative facilitator. Traditional hospital and long-term care settings will not disappear but be retooled to support those that are very ill or require intensive care.
2. Experiential Design Hits a Speed Bump: The trend of creating more experiential, memorable, and pleasurable healthcare environments has, once again, hit the speed bump better known as medical safety and best practice. At the height of the pandemic, all focus on creating hospitality and/or residential oriented environments gave way to obsession over infection control. Our attention was immediately focused on finding products and systems that mitigated the spread of infection- door hardware, sink faucets, HVAC systems.
Manufacturers and distributors of touch-free devices have been in full swing to support these changes. We researched and implemented many of these products: automated, hands-free door hardware (as well as hardware that could be operated with a forearm or elbow); door sweeps that could be adjusted to account for negative air pressure; and touchless water faucets, soap and paper towel dispensers. The good news is that we found a fair amount of commercial grade product on the market that did an adequate job of maintaining balanced aesthetics. The really good news is that as these worlds collide, even better products will emerge. The concern, however, is that some teams may not take the time, or have the wherewithal, to deliver environments that will elevate beyond a medical feel to provide not only a safe experience, but a pleasant one.
3. Pivoting In-place: Spaces and the programs the healthcare industry serves will need to be exceptionally agile, flexible and efficient. This is nothing new in concept, but the details have changed. Pivoting may be a more apt descriptor than flexibility when describing what most healthcare operators had to do when COVID-19 hit. They had to literally redirect patients, residents, and staff on the spot as they created impromptu containment, isolation, screening and safe zones within their existing environments. Some of those same strategies will become standard in future healthcare environments.
We are witnessing greater need for compartmentalization of space on the fly to accommodate isolation, observation, screening, and visitation, without adding any square footage. Units, wings and in some cases, entire facilities, may be equipped with systems, products, and components providing negative air pressure, bi-polar ionization, or UV treatment that will allow those spaces to transition from normal operation to pandemic mode and back again as needed to mitigate spread of infection. Temporary pop-up space for screenings, visitation, and other social support will remain a lingering design factor. Designers will be asked to identify and allocate space outdoors whether it be a parking lot, a front lawn or back patio.
4. Expanded Outdoor Living Spaces: The past several years have seen an increased interest in outdoor gardens in healthcare settings, and COVID-19 put an exclamation point on this trend. It is a widely accepted premise that nature can help us heal more quickly, reduce our blood pressure and make us feel calmer. Courtyards, patios, and gardens will continue to provide these healing places where family members can spend time with loved ones and maintain social distancing.
The pandemic surely has been a defining event for 2020, but it will also be a defining factor in the design of healthcare facilities. As we look to the coming year, a successful vaccine, and the resolution of this pandemic, we will carry these trends forward into the future as we adapt design to make us all better prepared for an unexpected healthcare crisis.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.