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The Hospital of the Future

Molly Rowe, for HealthLeaders Magazine, July 10, 2008
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Sure, your organization offers sophisticated, compassionate care. But the patients of tomorrow will want much more than that. Here’s how some hospitals are creating facilities for a new vision of healthcare.

Tomorrow's patients will expect more from your hospital than ever before. Keeping patients safe and offering the latest treatment options? That will go without saying in an increasingly transparent, fiercely competitive healthcare world. Hospitals will no longer be expected to just diagnose disease, prescribe medications, and perform surgeries. Rather, hospitals will be part wellness center, part hospice, part nursing school, part medical group. In short, patients and their families will want integrated features from across the provider spectrum.

Discussions about the hospital of the future tend to revolve around technology—things like genomics, robotic surgery, and integrated patient records. Although advanced technology will make futuristic improvements possible, experts say the hospital of the future's foundation will be based on improvements to care. This focus will drive significant changes in a hospital's physical space, staffing strategies, and patient care models. Senior leaders today must predict where healthcare is going and create a facility and staff to fit that vision. This month, HealthLeaders takes a closer look at what future hospitals might look like through the eyes of hospitals that are already moving in that direction.

Rethinking the facility
When she was hired in 2004, Dublin (OH) Methodist Hospital President Cheryl Herbert had what some would call the hospital leader's dream opportunity: Build a new hospital from scratch and hire all new staff to work there. Although already up and operating, the 94-staffed-bed community hospital owned by Ohio Health serves as a glimpse of hospital design's future. The construction and design of the facility, which opened in January, was entirely based on evidence-based design principles that have been shown to improve patient safety and reduce waste and inefficiency, Herbert says.

Dublin Methodist's unique design is apparent from a patient's first step through the hospital's front door. The main lobby, a three-and-a-half-story atrium, is filled with natural light and color, live trees, and flowing water. Peace and quiet is literally built into the facility through sound-absorbing floor and ceiling tiles, fully wireless communication systems, and limited overhead paging. Patient rooms are private and large enough to accommodate patient families around the clock, and the layout of each room is identical and standardized to decrease inefficiency and reduce errors.

But beyond Dublin Methodist's physical space, Herbert says the hospital's most innovative qualities are ones of process and culture. Take the admitting desk. There isn't one.

People entering the hospital are greeted by an "organizational liaison" who escorts or directs people to their destination depending on whether they are a patient, a visitor, or a vendor. If a patient is checking into the hospital, a greeter will escort him directly to his inpatient room and an admitting nurse will check him there. All registration in the building is done at point of service, not in an admitting office or at an information desk.

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