Within two months of the COVID-19 outbreak, telehealth usage spiked by more than 78%. It required healthcare organizations, architects, and designers dedicate time and effort to respond to the shift, and over the past two years, telehealth usage has stabilized at levels about half of its peak. We’ve all learned that the pandemic ushered in a new era of healthcare in the US. Let’s take a look at what this new version of patient wellness looks like – and how we can make it work for all of us.
Meeting new demands with new creativity
If you thought a rise in telehealth wouldn’t have an impact on physical spaces, nothing could be further from the truth. Before the pandemic, healthcare organizations had transformed physicians offices to shared spaces with dyad configurations to promote better communication between physicians, nurses and the administration, and to make work more efficient. Now, the increased demand for telehealth requires more enclosed spaces for patient privacy. To manage these dueling needs, healthcare providers need to update facilities to deliver both in-person and virtual care.
We had an example of this requirement recently when a client asked for help designing a solution that would allow clinicians to smoothly alternate between in-person and virtual care within limited space. The design wasn’t a complete overhaul that cost the organization time and money. It was, in fact, surprisingly simple. By converting a few storage spaces into telehealth rooms, implementing sound masking and new lighting, our healthcare client now has an environment where doctors can accommodate both models.
These types of projects demonstrate both the continued demand for dedicated healthcare delivery spaces and the growing need to treat virtual patients. Our lesson learned: designers can and should find creative ways to adapt.
Bridging the gap between patients and telehealth
In addition to clinicians, patients also view telehealth more favorably since the start of the pandemic. According to a 2021 Skyes survey, almost 88% of survey participants indicated interest in using telehealth after the pandemic –– compared to 66% before it. Telehealth benefits to patients are clear. However, socioeconomic, geographic, language, and cultural barriers can often limit patient access to telehealth solutions. These barriers widen the equity gap, and demand innovative and sustainable solutions to bridge it.
We’re tracking efforts by anchor institutions such as public libraries, who are stepping up to provide telehealth hubs in their communities. For example, in the small rural town of Pottsboro, Texas, the public library partnered with the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) to bring virtual care to the community. On top of outfitting the library with a private telehealth room and getting consumer health training from UNTHSC, the library partnered with local businesses, pharmacies, and the post office to spread the word about available telehealth services.
Efforts like these are vital to expand patient access to healthcare. And with the FCC approval of a $7 billion broadband connectivity fund for schools and libraries, these institutions are finding more opportunities to incorporate healthcare into community spaces, increasing access in a powerful way. The responsibility now rests on local communities, healthcare organizations, and architects and designers to make the virtual care experience simple, more approachable and secure for patients from all walks of life.
The start of a digital future in healthcare
While the pandemic has been a challenge to us all, the accelerated adoption of telehealth gives us an enhanced model to deliver healthcare to more people than ever. Telehealth creates the opportunity for increased access and it’s proving to be more effective. The Harvard Business Review revealed that some Kaiser Permanente patients had their problems resolved through virtual care 60% of the time, an astounding rate that bodes well for the future. And with support from government, public, and healthcare sectors, who knows what the future might hold?
If we can all approach the challenges and opportunities that come with this new health frontier successfully, we’ll play instrumental roles in defining the face of healthcare for the coming decades.
For a more in-depth conversation about the future of healthcare, listen in to our Powering the Future of Healthcare podcast with Rock Health COO Megan Zweig.