St Stephen’s Private Hospital by Conrad Gargett Riddel AMW, the first fully integrated digital hospital in regional Australia, was officially opened on Monday by Minister for Health, hon Peter Dutton MP.

Considered to be the ‘hospital-of-the-future’, St Stephen’s is located in Queensland's Hervey Bay, and houses the country’s first full EMR and digital patient management system, in addition to a digital drug dispensing facility and the capacity to monitor patients during surgeries.

Everything in the $96 million UnitingCare Health-operated facility, from x-rays to equipment monitoring in theatres, will be done electronically.

“This hospital was designed to be Australia’s first fully integrated digital hospital. It is truly paperless, with all patient records being digital. There were to be no exception to the extent that there are no facilities for the storage of paper records, or for the processing of paper documents (other than scanning),” says David Peters, Principal at CGR AMW.

Digital technology has, of course, formed a big part of the design elements, with Cerner as the key e-health provider responsible for the software integration. Approximately 1,400 devices connect and communicate wirelessly via the hospital network, with more than 2,100 data points and about 150 wireless access points.

However, with a ‘digital hospital’ comes the challenge that technology itself presents; it is a constantly evolving product and concept, and coordinating and aligning design of spaces to something that is ever-changing was a hurdle the architects had to overcome.

Peters says understanding the parameters of integration for accessing digital records was paramount for the team, with connectivity engines introduced to allow old technology to “talk” to new technology.

Some of the other measures to make the most out of the digital integration strategy include the implementation of fail-safe systems to ensure continual services, including the digital management of BEMS requirements, the ordering of goods and staff records. The team also had to understand the consequences of increased equipment quantities, with all medical devices now linked to the system via hard wire data connections or wirelessly from anywhere in the hospital.

Another challenge was maintaining an environment that would facilitate better healing and less stress with digital inclusion. On this end, each room has its own interactive touch-screen patient station with all relevant services and entertainment, and which includes meal ordering, internet and television.

The brief also called for the building to not only be designed for the needs of staff and patients, but to allow for the provision of spaces for external providers, such as the combined Oncology and Renal Dialysis facility.

These spaces ensure flexibility to meet the changing requirements of the community. An example of how the team has catered for future expansions is the provision of ‘soft spaces’ and corridors, which will accept the expansion without disruption to existing facilities.

“The building can be expanded to 180 beds and eight theatres, without disruption to existing services. In terms of the technological requirements, the data centre has been designed to cope with the eventual maximum size of the development,” says Peters.

These soft spaces also work to reduce the impact of the increased number of technical items and rise of the technological world, particularly for an aging community.

Peters adds that the project’s funding model (partly funded by a $447 million federal government grant) allowed the design team to think outside the box when it came to the spatial resolution of the hospital, and its external and internal aesthetics.

“It was important to consider how the building presents to the public and the way it contributes to the local environment. As a ‘commercial’ building it had to present an inviting frontage and become something of a landmark,” he says.

The domestic brick façade with outside metal cladding and rendered blocks reinforces the idea of a health facility that would have a more “hotel” and “corporate” feel. In the bedrooms, carpet has been used as the preferred flooring option and tiles in the foyer. Local artists were also sourced to provide the artwork in the entry way.

Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones