New Frontier

Though we’ve been talking for years now about how new technologies have the potential to fundamentally shift the healthcare experience from predominantly in-person visits to more virtual ones, the change was slow to come. That is until COVID-19 closed down access to nonessential appointments and heightened the need for a new way to connect patients with their care teams. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report “Medicare Beneficiary Use of Telehealth Visits: Early Data From the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” released in July, shows just how dramatically the landscape changed for Medicare patients in only a few short months, with less than 1 percent of primary care visits conducted through a telehealth platform in February compared with 43.5 percent in April.

Moving forward, McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, expects that telemed visits will account for around 20 percent ($250 billion) of what Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurers will spend on outpatient, office, and home health visits. One key factor spurring this change comes from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which temporarily approved coverage for 80 new telehealth services and provided more regulatory flexibility to increase access to virtual care.

In light of this fundamental shift in the care model and the need to carefully consider the design of telemed spaces, The Center for Health Design released the issue brief “Virtual Care: Guidance for Healthcare Settings,” researched and written by Ellen Taylor, vice president for research at The Center.

The 16-page brief focuses on the origins and expanding use of telemedicine for virtual care; the role the built environment plays in facilitating care via telemedicine; and how evidence was used to support and develop language for design guidance, specifically calling out requirements and recommendations. Taylor explains why it’s important for telemedicine settings to include more than technology and why they should address space, privacy, acoustics, lighting, gaze angle, interior surfaces, corporate branding, and equipment support in order to encourage the best possible outcomes.

For example, it’s important for rooms to be designed for appropriate sound isolation to ensure acoustical privacy. Another important part of the telemedicine experience is lighting to ensure a natural color rendition and support both proper diagnostics as well as patient satisfaction.

Because eye contact is an important part of the communication experience, thought also needs to be given to gaze angles and a person’s physical distance from the camera. The colors and finishes selected for the space can also impact the experience, with one study cited in the brief noting that light to medium blue or light gray matte wall finishes are best for color rendition and facilitating picture clarity. A sample of these colors is pictured in the brief as well as graphics on gaze angle and corporate identification placement.

In addition to this new issue brief, The Center held the day-long workshop “Telemedicine: The Genie’s Out of the Bottle” in September, which was recorded and will soon be available on demand on our website.

Medical visits aren’t the only thing that have moved online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Every November for more than three decades, our industry has gathered together in person to share stories, break bread, learn from one another, and celebrate our successes as a community through the annual Healthcare Design Expo & Conference. Much like going to summer camp as a kid, we’ve come to count on seeing our friends and colleagues each year and having that time together to learn and reconnect. This year, plans have been altered, like so many other aspects of our lives, but we can still come together for HCD Virtual, being held Nov. 9-12 (visit HCDvirtual.com for more information and to register). This new event will include an array of amazing speakers over the course of three days and one day dedicated to programs from the many associations that partner with the conference. It’s a great way to be together as a community and earn your CEU credits, until we can meet again at the next HCD Expo in October 2021 in Cleveland. I look forward to connecting with all of you soon!

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at dlevin@healthcaredesign.org.

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