The changing face of healthcare in Australia


History shows us that healthcare is constantly evolving to suit the needs of the time.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Health Sector Lead Damien Kenny said today we are challenged to think beyond the needs of our time in healthcare design.

“The start of the 20th Century marked a significant development in healthcare with the notion of today’s general hospitals. These big, centralised buildings offered a full range of services but it soon became apparent this was not the best model for patients, clinicians or operators,” he said.

The traditional healthcare model is now giving way to a ‘hub and spoke’ approach, as we move from an acute-based central hub to more flexible, ambulatory care. This change has been driven by a number of factors, not least the desire for patients to have a healthcare system that can address their needs in a fully integrated fashion.

“For designers, this decentralised model means we are becoming more tightly integrated into the early and ongoing planning of healthcare facilities,” he said.

Technology and medical science overcoming distance
Mr Kenny explained technology and improvements in medical knowledge strongly support the ‘hub and spoke’ model.

“In Australia, the advances we have seen in technology mean we can overcome the vast distances between our cities. These distances previously made it uneconomical or impractical to decentralise healthcare facilities.

“We are starting to design and deliver smaller, integrated health sites. From a services side, one of the enablers for all of this has been the rapid advances in technology and design approach, specifically on the digital front,” he said.

Meanwhile, improvements in medical knowledge mean many procedures can now be done within a day in an ambulatory care or outpatients setting, where previously patients would have required an overnight stay in hospital. This saves both time and cost.

Greater mobility, greater care
We now live in a world where technology underpins health process and care. A patient's medical history resides online, available instantly — anytime, anywhere. We can arrive at a hospital, and the staff will know about our previous care, existing conditions, life-threatening allergies and more.

Medical professionals can make faster, more informed decisions without costly delays or overlooked problems. Instant, reliable information translates into a smoother hospital stay or doctor’s visit, and more importantly, improved care.

Mr Kenny said given our growing dependency on technology in healthcare, it is critical that ICT consultants get involved early in the planning process.

“New technologies integrated early into design enable superior communication outcomes and access to mobile information for patients and caregivers. Innovative technologies that provide improved hospital operations include new phone systems, virtualization of computer services, wireless communication devices integrated with medical equipment, nurse call systems, as well as patient education to assist recovery and rehabilitation,” he said.

Early ICT involvement in design is happening in Australia. The New Clinical Services Building at Sydney Adventist Hospital in Wahroonga is one example where clinical and IT operations staff have worked closely together to ensure integration of technology throughout teaching and clinical spaces. According to Barbara MacKenzie, Information Services, IS Operations & Infrastructure Group Manager, the hospital’s goal was to “realise the benefits of a digital hospital, presenting technology interaction points seamlessly throughout the built environment whilst humanising the patient experience. Serene patient areas have little visible technology but underpin the digital clinical workflow.”

WSP has an unprecedented track record in supporting World Class Healthcare Facilities such as Sydney Adventist Hospital, which is at the forefront of integrating technology in Healthcare facilities in Australia.

Design beyond our times
Mr Kenny said the integration of technology goes beyond clinical-based care and impacts overall building design.

“This now includes highly-automated building control systems and re-radiating systems to help boost cell phone coverage throughout the building. This enables staff and patients to take full advantage of mobile technologies.”

“If we consider the accelerating rate of change in healthcare, the challenges may seem overwhelming; but I beg to differ. From my perspective the future looks bright as technology provides the means to deliver creative designs and to think beyond our times,” he said.

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