Digital health and technology are crucial in ensuring a more climate-friendly hospital design. The healthcare industry faces numerous challenges due to the growing demand for quality healthcare services and the need for sustainable and resilient infrastructure. The burden on healthcare systems is increasing, and the existing healthcare framework cannot accommodate this demand. The pandemic exposed the inadequacies of healthcare infrastructure, highlighting the urgency to build high-quality infrastructure.
The intersection of digital health and climate-responsive healthcare design is a realm of high synergy. Classically, healthcare buildings are amongst the highest energy users owing to the highly specialized and personalized patient care environment expected to render.
However, today intelligent hospital buildings can help significantly optimize this high energy usage via smart sensors, which employ natural attributes of daylight, temperature, humidity and air quality to curate the most conducive healing environment for patients, while reducing dependence on mechanical systems and reducing carbon footprint.
Some key considerations include the following building design principles that could render a salutogenic environment responsive to human and environmental health:
Solar passive building design: Integrating solar passive design principles into hospital architecture helps harness natural light, temperature and ventilation to create an energy-efficient healing environment. Smart sensors can optimize energy use by adjusting lighting, heating and cooling systems according to real-time environmental conditions.
Internet of health things: IoHT enables the seamless integration of medical devices, wearables and other healthcare technologies into hospital infrastructure. This integration can lead to more efficient patient monitoring, reduced waste and streamlined healthcare delivery.
Reduction of the carbon footprint: Digital health technology allows hospitals to reduce their carbon footprint by going paperless, adopting sustainable data management practices and employing cloud computing solutions to store and manage healthcare data.
Innovations in digital healthcare
Integrating digital health into sustainable healthcare design is a highly collaborative process among architects, medical planners and healthcare technology consultants to curate a seamless ecosystem based on usage patterns and driven by technology.
Digital health solutions such as responsive lighting, cooling, ventilation and heating contribute significantly to patient wellbeing. Further, most hospital settings come across as intimidating to patients, and the dependency on caregivers – whether doctors, nurses or family members – can make patients feel helpless, causing stress and anxiety. The use of AI for curating a personalized experience offering flexibility to control the environment and interactions around them can further enhance patient experience and expedite healing physiologically and psychologically.
Some of the digital technologies that can impact the design of healthcare buildings include:
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring: Telehealth services reduce the need for physical travel to healthcare facilities, reducing transportation-related emissions. RPM enables healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely, potentially reducing the length of hospital stays and overall resource consumption.
Paperless operations: The transition to electronic medical records and digital communication significantly reduces paper usage, leading to a more sustainable healthcare system.
Smart energy management: Digital health technologies, when integrated with building management systems, enable precise control of lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation, thus optimizing energy consumption.
Potential challenges for architects
Architects and healthcare planners may encounter several challenges when designing climate-friendly and technologically advanced facilities.
Some of these challenges include:
Limited awareness: Some healthcare providers may be unaware of the benefits and potential of digital health solutions, leading to slow adoption.
Scarcity of trained personnel: The lack of skilled professionals to operate and maintain advanced technologies could hinder their effective implementation.
Insufficient data: The lack of evidence-based design studies and data may hinder architects from substantiating design decisions and demonstrating potential return on investments linked to patient experience and sustainability.
With rapidly advancing technology, healthcare researchers are focused on orienting the healthcare system towards a physically disintegrated and digitally seamless care delivery model. In the near future, digital healthcare will incorporate the internet of things and make the best use of technology for a more efficient and resilient model.
Energy-efficient buildings incorporate advanced building systems and technologies to optimize energy efficiency. This includes efficient HVAC systems, smart lighting controls and renewable energy sources, such as solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling systems. The building designs of new-age hospitals need to carefully implement energy management systems that can help monitor and control energy usage throughout the hospital.
Technology has transformed the world in leaps and bounds over the past hundred years. However, like every other domain, healthcare hasn’t been untouched by the digital epoch. With ubiquitous technology, healthcare design is progressing toward advances in medicine. This new era has given birth to terms like telemedicine, e-hospitals, cellular hospitals, etc., that are starting to be seen as the future of the healthcare industry.
Digital health and technology offer promising solutions for creating climate-friendly hospital designs prioritizing human health and environmental sustainability. By integrating digital health solutions seamlessly into architectural design, hospitals can achieve energy efficiency, reduce their carbon footprint and provide patients with a healing environment that enhances their overall experience.
As awareness and technological advancements continue to progress, the healthcare industry has the potential to drive transformative change toward a greener and more patient-centric future.
Ravideep Singh is the associate director at Creative Designer Architects (CDA), an interdisciplinary architectural practice that is an established design leader in healthcare, institutional and commercial projects.