Innovation in healthcare: are we taking it too far?

Monday, March 08, 2021 20:56 | Alison Huynh (Administrator)

Article by Isabelle Mansour

Isabelle Mansour is a practising Health Planner who has previously worked as a Critical Care Registered Nurse. She currently works for TSA Management (Sydney Office) on capital health projects including major public hospital developments in NSW.

These days innovation in healthcare is a topic of great interest to healthcare professionals, patients and carers. Hospitals are future-proofing their designs to integrate digital innovation into their service models to deliver better and more affordable patient-centred care. Meanwhile, patients are embracing the introduction of technology into their health journey and being increasingly empowered to co-manage their own recovery and treatment in partnership with their clinicians.

In this article, I discuss my personal views as a Health Facility Planner regarding the future-proofing of our health facilities and the workforce required to treat more complex patients in a dynamic digital environment. During one of the Health Design educational forums I attended recently, the speaker shared a thought-provoking comparison between:

  1. A factory where multiple robots are involved in the production process, with minimal human intervention.
  2. An operating theatre, involving a number of clinicians, performing a surgical procedure on a patient

Robot-led manufacturing process


Clinician-led surgical procedure

Comparing these two pictures suggests that over the past decade, medicine has been slower to adopt technology compared to other industries. Despite the enormous interest in big-data analytics, integration of patient information, telehealth and artificial intelligence tools, the concept of factory-like hospitals has been slower to be accepted and incorporated in patient care.

Another example of the technological innovations in the design of healthcare facilities can be seen in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre (MSKCC) in New York. The MSKCC is leading the way in designing the futuristic Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and adapting technologies to improve customer experience and the quality of critical care delivery. Their vision for ICUs for the year 2050 includes the design of “biosphere capsules” which will monitor the patients’ environment using advanced sensors, visors to transform and communicate the patient’s thoughts, holographic doctors to provide remote care and other technological innovations which will transform the way medicine is practised.

Biosphere capsule and other technological innovations – a vision for ICUs in 2050?

There is little doubt that the implementation of this type of technological innovation will have significant benefits. These include making it easier for health professionals to monitor patients, reduce the need for excessive wiring of patients and freeing up clinicians in hospitals to carry out more complex cases.

Another captivating topic in the domain of Innovation in Healthcare delivery is the concept of a Virtual Reality Health Service. This would deliver comprehensive clinical care to patients regardless of where they live and what systems are available. The model has been already implemented in NSW e.g., Western NSW Local Health District use telehealth to provide specialist advice to remote areas. The Mid North Coast Local Health District has introduced “Telestroke”, a project that is improving outcomes for patients who present to Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour Hospitals with stroke symptoms. Telestroke supports the bridging of distances and the delivery of world-class stroke assessment, treatment and management, irrespective of a patient’s location. This is important for rural communities as patients often travel long distances to reach the nearest hospital. That hospital may not have the specialists to treat and manage those patients and must transfer them to other hospitals that may be even further away.

There are multiple advantages associated with the use of technology in healthcare that cannot be overlooked. These include:

  • robots performing surgery that may reduce the risk of human error;
  • automated pharmaceutical dispensing machines that may limit medication administration errors and promote efficiency;
  • the use of telehealth to foster equity of access to advanced and timely medical care, and
  • digitised health records that enhance patient care by improving clinicians’ access to big data, etc.

However, are we ready to fully rely on machines and let the virtual world completely take over from human beings in delivering patient care?

Are we overlooking the importance of human touch in the recovery and healing process – both physically and emotionally?

Before going too far in designing future healthcare innovations and future-proofing our healthcare facilities to accommodate them, are we truly involving the end-user (patients) in these decisions? Or are we just assuming that if we simply design an innovative hospital or service the “right way” and in compliance with relevant guidelines and policies, patients will undoubtedly embrace it?

Despite the challenges, I believe that the benefits of technology far outweighing the disadvantages. Moving forward, the key is to find the correct balance so that the efficiencies and precision of technology coupled with the human touch are used to provide optimum patient and experiences.

What do you think? Will we ever replace the need for human touch in healthcare? How far should we go using technology to replace the need for human carers?