Healthcare is an everchanging and technology driven industry. This can have huge impacts on the construction and engineering needs required to keep facilities and infrastructure up to date and allow medical providers to give their patients the best possible care. Two relatively new terms in the healthcare industry are:
Telehealth connects clinicians with patients in their home or via mobile devices.
Telemedicine connects a patient at a primary care clinic or emergency department to medical specialists via technology.
Telemedicine allows health care professionals to diagnose and treat patients at distance using telecommunication technology. This increase in accessibility and efficiency contributes to the improved quality healthcare. To help reduce costs, meet consumer demand, and allow easier access to all population segments, telemedicine is building on this niche in healthcare. It is becoming a more and more attractive tool and its use has seen an increase of more than 71 percent. All 50 states now provide some form of reimbursement coverage for telemedicine services.
What does this mean for the AEC industry?
The unique applications and technology involved with telemedicine require unique design guidelines and a different level of attention to detail. For example, let’s look at acoustics. Technology can record, broadcast, and relay a conversation from one person to another. Where technology falls short of being on the same level as a human is its limited ability to filter out other sounds that are not part of the communication sequence. Locating a telemedicine room away from unsuitable areas and features such as HVAC systems, busy corridors, waiting rooms, common areas, and parking lots, allow for a quiet environment that will facilitate speech intelligibility and communication.
Once you have an acceptable acoustic environment, lighting is another element that must be taken into consideration. The guidelines based on Facilities Guidelines Institute (FGI 2018) direct for the use of full-spectrum or warm, white light (3200-4000k) with a minimum light level of 150 foot-candles. The need is for direct frontal lighting; however, for uniform lighting and accurate color reproduction it is recommended to have both direct and indirect lighting. This is what makes the prescriptive guideline appropriate. Another requirement is to provide a means to control glare from natural and artificial light sources. A typical control could be shades or blinds in a room with windows. In spaces used for telemedicine, it is important to have areas where the patient and clinician can avoid sitting in front of a window when backlighting controls are not available. Diffused light shining diagonally toward the patient is also recommended to reduce shadows on the face.
The finishes and colors selected for a telemedicine bay, cubicle, or room must be able to support natural rendition of color and pattern. As suggested by FGI 2018, light to medium blue or light gray matte finishes are best for proper rendering of color and facilitating picture clarity. These shades are preferred because they offer minimal light absorption and reflectivity. When the room is used for other functions, a screen or curtain may be utilized to provide the appropriate background color. The backdrop wall color is required to have a light reflectance value of 30%-40%, which can be achieved by using a flat finish which is a gloss rating of level 1 or 2. It is also recommended to keep the reflectance values for surfaces at 20%-40% for flooring, 25%-45% for furniture, and 80%-90% for ceilings.
The evolution of telemedicine has been robust over the past few years with no sign of slowing down. Design and technology can ultimately make up for any shortcomings a physical environment may hold, if an organization will invest in the appropriate quality materials. The AEC industry can support this growing healthcare trend by staying up to date on current guidelines and fostering collaborative work between design and construction teams. When all team members are aware of the needs and best practices involved in a project, everyone achieves a greater end result.