The NHS long term plan identifies technology as a key enabler to deliver transformative change.
It also recognises that continuing with existing models of care is not sustainable. There is enormous potential to deliver significant efficiency benefits, but more importantly benefits to the patient experience and wellbeing.
Technology develops quickly. The iPhone has only been around for just over a decade. Healthcare buildings traditionally develop much more slowly. 43% of the existing NHS estate is over 30 years old, and many new buildings currently under construction were conceived before the first iPhone was released.
So, what is the impact of these fast moving developments on our NHS estate, both existing and new? The King’s Fund has explored some of the implications in its recent study Clicks and Mortar recognising that the impact of technology is likely to lead to a different estate rather than a smaller one.
Our recent work in the design of high-tech healthcare buildings includes a national roll out of diagnostic facilities. This work has provided a breadth of insight into some of the challenges and solutions for both the retrofit of existing buildings and the creation of new buildings. There are clear implications for design.
A typical MRI scanner is replaced every 11 years.
We need to consider the lifespan of technology in the design of our buildings. Layout, access and integration should enable simple replacement without significant additional costs.
The increasing availability of sophisticated technology is allowing changes in clinical practice. CT scanners have virtually replaced traditional x-rays in resuscitation areas, enabling much higher quality of imaging and more accurate diagnosis. We can plan for this trend by integrating ‘soft’ spaces such as stores as part of the layout to enable further provision in the future.
Would you order a new laptop two years in advance?
The planning of spaces, such as hybrid theatres, to accommodate specialist equipment such as CT, PET or MRI scanners is highly technical.
Rooms are expected to meet specific standards defined by the manufacturer. The speed of development for these technologies means that spaces should be planned to accommodate the widest range of options. We consider the technical requirements of all potential suppliers and generate a set of shared requirements. Nobody would order a new laptop two years before they wanted to use it and we shouldn’t expect clinical teams to commit to new equipment any earlier than is necessary.
By building in these considerations, we’re freeing up clinical teams to make better spending decisions.
Technology is an enabler.
Technology will continue to change the way that we design our healthcare buildings. By working closely with clinical teams and specialist suppliers we can achieve successful integration to make our estate future ready. The successful adoption of these technologies is crucial if our health service is to be sustainable.
More importantly, if we can successfully integrate technology and our estate, we can realise the benefits of improved diagnosis, shorter recovery periods from operations, reduced lengths of stay and greater patient control.