Seattle Principal Kari Thorsen’s father gets his blood tested regularly at the Rivers Edge Clinic. Now instead of parking, walking to the lab, waiting to see the phlebotomist, and walking to another department to schedule a follow up appointment, he can have his blood test drawn from the comfort of his own car. They call him an hour later with his test results and schedule a follow up appointment.
This is part of a new curbside service being offered at Rivers Edge in St. Peter, MN, in response to COVID-19. Patients simply drive up, call when they arrive, and a staff member comes out to their car. Kari’s father was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was. But does the rise of curbside services and telemedicine signal change for the future of healthcare design? We asked Kari what she thinks.
As a healthcare designer, do you think the coronavirus pandemic will result in lasting changes to hospital and clinic design?
Absolutely. While organizations have had to adjust quickly to keep both their patients and staff safe, it has resulted in them being able to implement things that would normally take months or years of process change. I think it will result in lasting change from more telemedicine visits, home testing kits or visits and numerous process changes, especially as we get to the ‘lessons learned’ side of this pandemic.
In the case of my dad, hopefully they can continue phone call follow-up scheduling and test results. Instead of walking to another clinic with a piece of paper from the lab, keep removing that step for patients.
How will this impact the Lean process, in terms of eliminating waste, improving workflows and the patient/staff experience?
We are already seeing the impact on projects we were in the middle of designing when the stay at home orders were issued. It is changing the way users think about the kinds of spaces they need and how often patients need to come to clinics. It is causing all of us to stop and ask how we change our current flexible clinic setting to adjust from in-person visits to telemedicine. It is raising even more interesting questions about where buildings should be located and how we can still create a sense of community.
I am most excited about the opportunities we haven’t had a chance to dive into yet. A number of clients over the years have been talking about how to bring care closer to their patients, from neighborhood clinics to at-home visits. Typically, the biggest hurdle for these organizations has been the fear of change, but COVID-19 has forced them to change quickly and implement ideas that have only been talked about in the past. Once we get back to a more normal operating state, there will be less risk in trying out some of these out-of-the-box ideas, as they have essentially been trialing them.
Now there are several elements of improved experience we can pull forward to make for a better patient and staff experience. Staff have been at the center of all of this, and while we haven’t been able to connect with those on the front lines yet, the improvements are there and I can’t wait to hear what worked well for them, what they were surprised by and how we can help support them in the future.
A lot of media attention is focusing on the negative side of the pandemic. Your father’s experience paints a slightly different picture. How can we capture some of the positive stories and lessons learned?
By listening to people’s stories and asking questions, we are starting to shed light on future opportunities. At ZGF we are starting to look across our projects for themes. Once our clients have more capacity to put these lessons into action, I hope we can do some deep dives into how they were able to implement process change and how to support them for long term applications. This experience is already influencing work we have in design and it is going to have long term effects on how we approach design solutions moving forward.
In Seattle, it seems like we’re finally turning the corner—or should we say flattening the curve—on COVID-19. Do you have any words of wisdom as we move forward?
This has been a difficult time for everyone and yet there are many amazing stories out there of people creating new things, testing new ideas and coming together to help each other. I am hopeful we will learn from this experience and incredible new ideas will continue to be developed.