Hospitals are the most important pillar of healthcare. However, since COVID-19 started to spread globally, their significance for not just treatment, but also for testing and after-care grew exponentially. The medical research community documented that up to 80 percent of the COVID-19 cases might be mild or asymptomatic. However, when severe, COVID-19 might call for a demanding treatment at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of hospitals equipped with advanced tools such as medical ventilators. Hence, COVID-19 is reshaping hospitals and healthcare systems around the world to respond to the crisis better.
The long-term changes in healthcare and hospitals that COVID-19 might have sparked are still unknown. However, in just a matter of months, COVID-19 is dramatically changing hospitals, in some of the following ways.
As the numbers of COVID-19 patients accelerated, hospital and ICU bed capacities were one of the most pressing difficulties healthcare workers faced with treatment. While some countries like New Zealand, Eritrea, Montenegro, or Papua New Guinea reportedly eliminated the virus as of July 2020, hospital capacity will likely remain a concern for many others for the rest of the year.
It’s becoming clear that [hospitals are] going to be treating patients with Covid for a long period of time.Kate Mullaney, health care marketing strategist at the architecture firm HGA.
Many hospitals already expanded their space and capacity using pop-up field hospitals or converting the other departments into makeshift ICUs. COVID-19 is reshaping the hospitals by forcing them to think outside the box.
In the mid and long run, Dr. Vineet Chopra, the chief of hospital medicine at Michigan Medicine, believes that increasing hospital capacity is the worthiest investment. He highlights some solutions such as converting single rooms into doubles, reducing admissions of non-COVID patients, as well as discharging the COVID-19 patients as soon as they’re ready to go — in order to optimize hospitals for peak times and long-term preparedness for crisis.
Furthermore, COVID-19 forced healthcare systems to embrace telehealth and conduct remote consultations in non-critical cases. Following the pandemic, hospitals are set to keep increasing their digital capacities to serve their communities in addition to the beds.
Likewise, for non-COVID patients, the primary “out-patient” response will likely initially be by telephone or online. Governments and healthcare systems around the world are increasingly working on digital health infrastructure to reduce the physical burden on hospitals.
Minimizing Touch and Contact
Few historical events raised the public awareness of personal hygiene, in particular, clean hands, as COVID-19 did. According to the World Health Organization, clean hands are the single most important and effective measure against not just COVID-19, but many other infectious diseases. As touching contaminated surfaces can distribute the virus, COVID-19 is reshaping the hospitals to be environments with as little touching as possible.
Many design experts believe COVID-19 might be kickstarting a “hands-free” future. From touch-free access and contactless payment to telecommuting technologies, the cautions against touching boosted the demand for all-things hands-free.
Reforming Hospital Buildings to Restrict Contamination
Hospitals, where the touch matters most, will likely be at the center of the touch-free revolution. This entails not only minimizing actual physical touch, but also optimizing people flow, and making spatial reforms in hospitals to ensure the virus cannot travel.
Following the pandemic, many more patients might enter a hospital from a no-contact gate. By tapping into technologies like face recognition, hospital staff might call elevators or enter the rooms to help patients without touching anything, while also acting quicker.
Following the pandemic, it’s reasonable to expect carefully designed patient and staff flows, similar to the security protocols and passenger flows in the airports. For instance, hospitals might schedule patients’ appointments after a first consultation via phone or online. Also, they might verify and identify patients and staff at the main entrance with various access technologies, and even re-verify them at each department.
Especially general hospitals are segregating the entrance and exit to their different departments strictly to avoid the virus spreading in the hospital. Aside from the aforementioned access technologies they might even make use of airlock doors to control also the airflow which could be infectious not just for COVID-19 but any other airborne disease.
But while these technologies cannot replace a robust personal hygiene routine, they can supplement the practice of regular hand washing and reduce the risks of infection in a building.
Maximum Preparedness for Resilient Public Health
“We need to focus on doing the greatest good for the greatest number of patients,” says Dr. Laraine Washer, an infectious diseases specialist, also at Michigan Medicine. She emphasizes that maximum preparedness and planning will accelerate the resilience of healthcare systems, adding, “Planning must begin in full force now.”
As of July 2020, about a dozen vaccines are in various stages of testing worldwide. While the invention and the mainstream availability of a COVID-19 vaccine would change the picture, hospitals must still undertake the necessary reforms and exercise caution.
However, as COVID-19 keeps reshaping hospitals in the near and far future, there’s no doubt the improvements in hospitals and maximum preparedness will pay off beyond the pandemic.