"Designing for Health" is a monthly, web-exclusive series from the healthcare interior design leaders at Perkins+Will that focuses on the issues, trends, challenges, and research involved in crafting today's healing environments.
Over 100 million Americans now own a smartphone or tablet device. : Your doctor is probably one of them. As these devices become truly mainstream, so is our use of apps—the little software packages that make these devices so useful and information so accessible. Their uses appear limited only by our imagination.
Consumers use apps for everything from depositing a check to changing their home thermostats. The two most popular platforms, iOS and Android, collectively claim over one million apps in their respective stores.
But consumers needn’t have all the fun. Professional services are an expanding frontier for a maturing app industry.
The design of healthcare facilities, and the delivery of care, is being transformed by technology innovation. In particular, tablets such as the iPad are proving to be useful tools to designers and practitioners alike. For designers and hospital administrators, apps facilitate communication in new ways. For healthcare practitioners, apps can offer a more efficient medium to deliver care.
Perkins+Will and its clients offer an interesting case study in how apps are being developed and used in healthcare facilities.
The tablet as a communication tool for designers
The scale and portability of the tablet makes for a natural presentation tool and designers are using this to convey information to clients in new ways. Presentations are typically developed, coded at the office, and loaded as an app onto the tablet but where yesterday’s presentations were relatively static, the app and tablet interface allow for a more dynamic experience today.
“We’re looking beyond the Powerpoint-style slideshow,” says Daniel Creekmore, an iOS programmer with Perkins+Will’s Visualization Lab. While the iPad can deliver this too, he notes “its real potential is in a more interactive and freeform presentation style.” Reed Pittman, director of the Visualization Lab, adds, “we certainly use some off-the-shelf apps, but when their capabilities don’t meet our needs, we create our own. This has allowed us to share information in new ways for a richer, more immersive experience.”
For example, Perkins+Will created its first app for Baylor Medical Center at Irving at the earliest conceptual stage. Through an interactive and layered interface, it allowed the client to see how a new Emergency Department might physically be constructed on the project site across multiple phases. The app allowed for a non-linear presentation of this information, such that graphics could move and keep pace with an unscripted dialogue with the client. Multiple people control the app via their own tablets, including the client. This makes for an engaging and collaborative tool, where design concepts are more accessible.
The tablet as a communication tool for clients
The apps used in design phases often have lives beyond their original intent. In a recent instance, the administration at Baylor Medical Center at Irving used an app to present their new Emergency Department to the Hospital Board for approval.
“It allowed for a much smoother, more robust discussion,” observes Cindy Champ, president of Baylor Medical Center at Irving. “The flexibility of the application allows for the speaker to accommodate the questions more quickly than other kinds of tools I’ve used. We could dig as deeply, or as little, as we wanted.”
Other uses abound. Clients have used apps for patient wayfinding in hospitals, fundraising with donors, recruiting of private physician practices, or simply as an extension of their brand.
The tablet as a communication tool for healthcare practitioners
Apps are being leveraged by healthcare practitioners too. Some apps simply streamline common tasks: Physicians are using smartphones to prescribe medications to patients, sending information directly to local pharmacists.
Other apps are more “smart,” helping patients take action without the presence of a physician. When paired with other devices, apps can monitor and report trends in a patient’s vital signs over a period of time. An alarm might sound when a diabetic’s glucose falls outside a prescribed range.
Still others are pushing the bounds of traditional patient care. Prosthetic patients are one group that is really beginning to benefit from app innovation. Prostheses often require minor adjustments for fit and durability, sometimes on a weekly basis, which typically requires a trip to the prosthetist’s office. But now, thanks to advanced technology, some medical devices are fitted with small motors that allow adjustment via a smartphone.
"We've seen incredible growth in patient-care software," says Ashleigh Pollock, marketing communications manager with medical device manufacturer and supplier Quest Medical, Inc. “Eighteen months ago, the industry was focused on EMR platforms [electronic medical records]. Now we're seeing interest in the iPad and other tablet-served patient care. The iPad is the ideal platform that allows us to communicate with our customers, expanding reach and leveraging existing time.”
Innovation has always given birth to change. As the smartphone and tablet industries mature, designers and practitioners will find new ways to deliver their services. Authoring our own applications may open new doors.
Jordan Thompson, AIA, is a project manager with the Dallas office of Perkins+Will. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Interview with Daniel Creekmore of Perkins+Will. Dallas, Texas. August 23, 2012.
Interview with Reed Pittman of Perkins+Will. Dallas, Texas. September 14, 2012.
Interview with Cindy Champ, President of Baylor Medical Center at Irving. Irving, Texas. September 17, 2012.
Bhakti K. Patel, MD; Christopher G. Chapman, MD; Nancy Luo, MD; James N. Woodruff, MD; Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP, “Impact of Mobile Tablet Computers on Internal Medicine Resident Efficiency,” Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 172, no. 5 (2012).
Sarah Needleman, “New Medical Devices Get Smart,” The Wall Street Journal, 14 August 2012, sec. B, p.1.
Interview with Ashleigh Pollock, Marketing Communication Manager of Quest Medical, Inc.. Allen, Texas. September 14, 2012.
Past installment of "Designing for Health" include (click on the title to access the full article):
Healing the Hospital
Exploring Collaboration in the Consolidated Interventional Platform
The Differences between U.S. and U.K. Clinical Planning Models
Widening a Circle of Natural Inclusion
Mentoring the Next Generation of Healthcare Design Professionals