How Can Technology Provide a Better Patient Room Experience?

Roozbeh Afzal
January 1, 2019
Min Read
How Can Technology Provide a Better Patient Room Experience?

When picturing today’s typical hospital patient room, you may think of it filled with clunky medical equipment, loud beeping monitors, medical gas outlets in the headwall, and large computer-on-wheels (COW) assemblies that crowd the room and create physical barriers between clinicians and patients.

This type of environment is not conducive to healing. Patients have limited control over their physical environment and as a result can experience a feeling of helplessness that adds to their overall stress. Furthermore, one of the biggest complaints we hear from patients is that they wait for long periods of time to get answers to their questions, lab results, or updates on the status of their condition or how much longer they will stay in the hospital. Research has proven that a patient’s comfort and stress levels are linked to their overall health outcomes.

Patient and family member expectations are changing. People have become accustomed to interacting digitally with their environments and having the ability to access their information, schedule appointments, and do the majority of follow-up tasks online or via smartphones. As healthcare shifts to become a more patient-centered and “retail” business, it’s increasingly important to provide the best user experience for both patients and family members.

Embrace technology advancements

The healthcare industry has historically lagged behind the curve in technology adoption compared to other markets. With all the changes taking place in healthcare today, this will no longer be the case. Health systems are now embracing technology in an effort to improve the patient experience, enhance patient and family member engagement, and reduce operational costs. With increased competition in today’s healthcare market (including Amazon and Walmart), hospitals are looking to technology as another way to differentiate themselves from competitors.

It’s a very exciting time in the healthcare industry, ripe with possibilities to implement thoughtfully designed, integrated technology systems. Technology continues to evolve every day, and hospitals constantly look for ways to leverage their technology investments wisely. Here are some use-cases today’s hospitals are currently planning for and implementing, along with some emerging technologies that show promising potential to make a significant impact in the patient room.

Internet of Things (IoT)

As more devices and equipment come network-ready out of the box, we have new capabilities for granular control and management of the connected equipment. Imagine a patient room in which the patient controls temperature and lighting levels from a central location. Some are even considering ways to allow patients to control these systems from their own devices. Of course, these applications come with their own challenges, including the IT security issues that arise when allowing a user’s personal device to control hospital systems.

Conversational Interfaces

With voice recognition technology continuing to advance and become familiar in homes, another area of interest is enabling patients to control their environment and communicate with hospital staff using their voices (think Alexa or Google Home). Possibilities include patients controlling the television and entertainment system, calling a nurse for assistance, and checking their meal plan for the day, just to name a few. Reducing the need to touch physical equipment in the room could also help control the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

Another area where voice recognition technology shows great promise is the ability to reduce the administrative burden on physicians. Nuance, a leading software company, has developed tools that automate the dictation process and reduce the physician’s workload. The Nuance system can listen to and record the conversation taking place in the patient room and automatically deliver structured data to the electronic health record system in real time, with final approval by the physician prior to updating the patient’s records.

Voice recognition technology is still under development and still has issues recognizing certain accents and speaking styles. This technology also has not been proven in the healthcare space. Cedars Sinai is piloting Alexa and a custom skill called Aiva in 100 of their patient rooms in Los Angeles. But there seems to be some real potential to improve patient satisfaction and enhance operational efficiency.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Some potential use cases for AI in healthcare include the following:

  • Predictive analytics for early detection of sepsis;
  • Clinical decision support at the point of care to avoid prescribing drugs that can have an adverse effect when mixed with a patient’s existing medication;
  • Cameras in the patient room that use AI to discern pain levels by interpreting the patient’s face;
  • Predictive analytics incorporating social determinants of health (SDoH) data to identify patients at risk of opioid dependency.

These technologies are still underdevelopment and further study will be required to understand if they can deliver clear benefit to care delivery. Additionally, because existing AI techniques depend heavily on using vast quantities of data from past patients for training, there are still significant privacy implications to understand and address.

DirectView LED (DV-LED) Displays

With the cost of direct-view LED screens steadily declining, a once bleeding-edge technology is entering consideration for the patient room of the future. With the right system integrations and proper IT planning, it’s possible to pull data from myriad medical systems and output the information onto these integrated displays. This could eliminate many pieces of medical equipment in the room and help to provide a more comfortable experience. Use-cases for DV-LED screens include the following:

  • The ability to video conference with family members, interpreters, and remote physicians (telemedicine);
  • Creating immersive experiences for the patient that serve as positive distraction therapy;
  • Providing contextual information to the patient and their family throughout their stay in the hospital - for example, displaying the name of the clinician as they enter the room or providing real-time data informing the patient when they can expect to be seen by a provider again or when their test results will be ready;
  • Creating a digital whiteboard that replaces the typical marker board and shows the patient care plan;
  • The ability to stream content from a patient’s personal device to the display in the room, otherwise known as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) support.

This rendering developed for a new Heart and Transplant Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), planned to open within the next three years, shows some of these possibilities.

Challenges certainly remain, including the high cost of implementing DV-LED screens on non-flat surfaces, the need to clean these screens to the same level of infection control as the rest of the patient room, and the need to make these screens accessible for maintenance.

Regardless of the approach, large-format displays seem to be making their way into the patient room. Some health systems are opting for large-format monitors (80-90”) at the headwall to provide the digital real estate to implement some of the aforementioned use-cases.

Looking Forward

It's so exciting to observe the changes taking place in the healthcare industry today and be part of the design process implementing technologies that make a positive impact for both patients and providers. I’m excited for what the future has in store for us.