In an effort to create a set of guidelines for dedicated telehealth spaces, Hassell and The University of Queensland have conducted a survey that outlines the future configurations of our hospitals, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of 77 respondents from a wide age range of health workforce professions including nurses, doctors and administrators gave answers to a multitude of questions, with almost half being allied health professionals.

Given the pace and severity of the pandemic, hospital infrastructure in Australia was not equipped to accommodate the significant increase in telehealth services. Clinicians reported delivering care from borrowed offices, vacant meeting rooms, the driver’s seat, or even hospital storage cupboards, highlighting a clear lack of amenity.

“Some hospitals are already exploring activity-based work spaces to combine telehealth and in-person consultations, while others have made significant investments in digital-only hubs for patients at home,” says Leanne Guy, Principal and Health Sector Lead at Hassell.

“Each hospital will need a tailored solution to suit its unique patient characteristics, funding models, staff profiles and models of care.”

Hassell has presented a series of potential design scenarios for outpatient departments in hospitals, centred around three different configurations of 10 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent telehealth services.

Hassell’s research findings shed light on how healthcare staff experienced a transformational period in their work lives. It confirmed many hunches about the benefits and challenges of telehealth, and gave hints for future scenarios of hospital design.

Visual and acoustic privacy are critical design features of telehealth facilities moving forward. Privacy and adequate space were at the top of the list of respondent’s answers, indicating the importance of these characteristics, and the varying quality across existing facilities.

Consultant rooms were the preferred location for telehealth in the future with 38 percent of all respondents. A dedicated telehealth space and enclosed offices were the next most popular at 17 and 16 percent respectively. Shared spaces such as clinical areas (5 percent) and meeting rooms (4 percent) were not favoured, with poor acoustics and privacy the likely reasons. 

Expectations of ongoing mixed-mode delivery may explain the strong future preference for consultation rooms over dedicated telehealth spaces, which are much more space efficient, containing only the necessary technology and a desk in most circumstances, that can also double as multi-purpose spaces.

Post-pandemic, with extra incentive to minimise infection risks and an increase in telehealth, hospitals have an opportunity to dedicate less space to public circulation and waiting areas. Hassell believes it is likely that virtual and home-based care will become more common for less acute patients or those with chronic disease, due to the pandemic and the rise and rise of telehealth.

Hassell’s research has led them to believe that approximately 50 percent of all hospital services will be delivered via telehealth. The designs created by the practice address the needs of dedicated spaces for the over-the-phone service, and address the need for private spaces with adequate acoustic treatments.

To view the research report in full, click here.


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