In a TEDx presentation this year, Dr. Anthony Atala demonstrated a laser printer that “printed” a kidney transplant using a patient’s own cells. Meanwhile, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that humans will soon be injected with robots the size of blood cells to fight off diseases before they spread inside the body. This is just a glimpse into a not-so-distant future when bio-scientific and technological innovation transform how ailments are diagnosed, treated and cured. Coupled with the rising demands of an aging global population, the developments will result in a health and wellness industry that hardly resembles what it is today.
I think that the environments of health and wellness will reflect these developments dramatically. The home will soon become a focal point for health services delivery, while mega-facilities will bridge hospitals to research labs to expedite care innovation in urban settings. And everything will be informed by greater knowledge of how the human body and brain react to those environments. There’s an amazing opportunity right now to recreate the experience of health and wellness in ways that the well, the sick and every person in-between can appreciate.
Lifestyle empowerment moves care close to home
In another TEDx presentation, MIT Media Lab Director Deb Roy traced the evolution of his two-year-old child’s speech development using audio and video sensors in his home, recorded seamlessly over the course of several years. This kind of technology will allow researchers to gather and process volumes of data on human health and behavior, with big implications for how health care is delivered.
Self-diagnosis is already becoming a viable industry. Websites such as PatientsLikeMe enable people worldwide to exchange information with virtual communities on diagnoses and treatment, instead of relying on the opinion of the family doctor or specialist. While not everyone may prefer to crowdsource their medical care, this shift could create an immense cost savings to the overburdened health care system -- a $400 billion savings to the U.S. health care system, according to a Deloitte Consulting report.
As individuals become more empowered to take their health into their own hands and choose online community help or professional medical care, a primary place for medical treatment will shift from the doctor’s office to the home.
Rise of the therapeutic city
Even as the home becomes a new gateway for delivering care, there will always be a need for hospitals, research labs and clinics. (It’s hard to imagine a heart transplant occurring in my living room.) But what will future medical centers look like and where will they be located?
According to The Institute for the Future, health care investment will be routed away from standard R&D models “to large population centers where innovations can be rapidly prototyped.” The logic is that biomedical innovation requires immediate proximity between research and the early adopters of clinical trials. The effectiveness of co-locating researchers and patients could be profound.
Sarah Bader, a principal in Gensler’s Chicago office and leader in our health and wellness practice, notes how this is playing into our work with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: “We’re creating translational spaces that connect patients to ongoing research, making them not research subjects, but engaged participants.”
The role of the traditional hospital within the urban fabric is another subject of great debate. The Institute for the Future foresees “mega-hospitals” such as the Mayo Clinic fostering “clusters of translational R&D in biomedicine.” However, according to analysts at McKinsey, U.S. hospitals will be forced to streamline services in order to remain competitive in the marketplace, by reorganizing around a narrower range of clinical activity and focusing on quality service delivery rather than volume. In other words, put care in the best place for it – perhaps a school or retail location rather than a higher-cost hospital.
The future will likely be an amalgam of these and then some, but my essential takeaway is that not only will health care facilities be transformed, they’ll integrate into a “therapeutic city” of tomorrow.
Beyond evidence-based design
The health care industry has long used data to inform how their environments are designed. Results from a pioneering study by Roger Ulrich in 1984 showed that patients who had a view of nature from their beds recovered faster than those who did not. Such research spawned the methodology of “evidence-based design,” where data on human health and behavior merges with the design of physical spaces.
Futurists are predicting that further advances in brain science will extend well beyond current industry practice. Not only will designers be informed about correlations between design and health, they will know with greater specificity how the neural system responds to the slightest changes in light, color, space, air and other elements. This kind of data could impact how environments respond to the unique needs of individuals (which could resonate effectively with those empowered consumers I described earlier, a competitive edge for providers).
A pioneering example exists in the Austen Pavilion of the Lunder Building at Mass General where the hospital’s rooms “incorporate the specific needs of neurology, neurosurgery and cancer patients” by reacting in real time to air and light. Better rooms are a start, but I contend that it’s time to consider the whole of the built health care environment as ripe for metamorphosis.
What we now only imagine…
There are many other trends on the horizon, such as infusing sustainability into design, merging hospitality with health and wellness, and designing buildings able to withstand the worst natural disasters so they provide continuous care. What’s particularly exciting is how innovations in care, technology and patient empowerment are poised to transform virtually everything we can imagine about health care treatment and delivery. And as William Blake wrote: “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
Chris Jerde is a member of the LA Consulting group since 2005 and the SF group since 2010. He has brought a unique expertise to the practice area and the firm at-large. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.