The COVID-19 outbreak has led to process, technology and operational improvements to enhance patient and staff safety, and many of these changes could figure prominently during the next major infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. Other changes requiring more elaborate planning will impact future hospital designs.
Several important issues could impact how care is delivered if there is a major resurgence of COVID-19 or if another pandemic strikes.
Patient intake processes underwent major changes during the early stages of COVID-19. Drive-through testing stations, remote check-in processes and other steps helped mitigate risks to caregivers and patients. Look for this to continue as provider organizations deal with future infectious disease outbreaks.
Memorial Health System, which serves counties in the Mid-Ohio Valley, covering southeastern Ohio and northern West Virginia, deployed a zero-contact intake system from software maker Phreesia at two emergency departments (EDs), an urgent care clinic, outpatient clinics and a drive-through clinic that tested patients for COVID-19, notes a recent Wall Street Journal report. Memorial also uses virtual registration to reduce risk for maternity patients. They can register at home or in the parking lot, where a staff member checks their temperature and directs them to the obstetrics department.
Greater Space Flexibility Required
Patient surges encountered during the pandemic vividly illustrate how several facilities had to take dramatic steps to convert spaces to triage and isolation areas. These makeshift solutions may be needed again if we see fall or winter spikes in COVID-19.
Northwell Health, for instance, launched a surge plan that boosted its number of hospital beds from 4,000 to 5,600 in slightly more than two weeks, including adding beds within existing spaces, adding tents to hospital grounds and beds at a 300-seat auditorium at North Shore University Hospital in Manhassett, N.Y. But what about the longer term?
Dallas-based HKS Architects, an international hospital design firm, noted recently that many hospitals are embracing an array of temporary hospital designs. The firm has released concept studies for converting buildings into hospital spaces in 14 days or fewer, notes a Fast Company report.
Design for the Worst-Case Scenario
Some large regional providers are putting better disaster preparations front and center in their planning. Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Marietta, Ga., will soon open a 263,000-square-foot ED building, The Wall Street Journal report states. The facility will double the hospital’s current emergency and trauma capacity, enabling it to treat more than 600 patients daily. It includes dedicated isolation and decontamination rooms that can be used for patients who present with infectious disease, behavioral health or chemical contamination issues, and multiple entrances for different levels of patient severity.
Across the street from the main hospital and medical center campus, the new building is connected by a bridge with two levels to ensure that patients and clinicians are always separated from visitor traffic, and it has its own imaging and X-ray facilities so patients don’t have to be transported to the main hospital for tests.