Future Healthcare Design

The Digital Hospital

© Nickl & Partner

Statement by Magnus and Hieronimus Nickl, Nickl&Partner

Statement by Magnus and Hieronimus Nickl, Nickl&Partner

The Digital Hospital

5 Statements on Future Healthcare Design

Global Health – Digital Health

An international network must be established that connects healthcare facilities digitally. In this way, medical findings, information about therapies etc., will be easily exchanged while specialist from various fields can assist the colleagues up to remote OT procedures. This could be achieved by predefined standards of data exchange.

Modular and Flexible

Lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis show that many healthcare facilities are not flexible, unsuitable for current demands and cannot adapt appropriately. In the future, modular, prefabricated units can solve this challenge and can be expanded/shrink depending on demand.


A resilient healthcare system combining minimum/maximum care facilities on several hierarchical levels: from small, neighborhood units serving as first contact points to highly specialized clinics to major university level hospitals treating complex and rare illnesses. This new system is likely to replace the existing general hospital with overflowing emergency departments etc.

Healing Architecture

Evidence-based human-centered architecture can promote patient recovery and support the work of medical and nursing staff. Nevertheless, the “soft factors” of a health-promoting environment are still regarded as a “nice-to-have” instead of a self-evident necessity. Therefore, we need efficient and mandatory guidelines and mechanisms that integrate the benefits of healing architecture into the planning process of healthcare facilities.

Healthy Cities

More than half of the global population is living in cities. This figure will rise significantly in the next centuries. By making cities healthier, by exterminating air pollution and noise, promoting active movement and healthy activities, enhancing new forms of mobility, and creating more climate-friendly green spaces, major sources of potential illnesses can be exterminated.

The digital hospital

The digital revolution that is irresistibly affecting all fields of our lives will also change hospital building. That is certain. However, forecasts of what the hospital of the future will look can only offer an imprecise image of what would be conceivable or desirable based on today’s conditions and technologies.

If we examine the key changes that have occurred in hospital building since the dawn of the digital era, i.e. roughly since the 1990s, we find: not very much. Spatial briefs presented to architects as the basis for new buildings are still developed out of experience gathered twenty years ago. New ways of thinking with respect to conceiving and planning our health infrastructure are taking a surprisingly long time establish themselves. This is not due to a lack of good theoretical ideas. In 2018, we posed the question of the effects of digitisation at the Berlin symposium “Health Care of the Future”.

Summarised in key themes, the speakers at the symposium came to the following conclusions:

The effects of digitisation will be more structural than spatial.

New built structures can be expected for hospitals providing primary and standard care.

The role of outpatient care facilities will become more significant.

Similarly, smart-home concepts will establish themselves in the healthcare sector.

First aid emergency care and patient accommodation are more conceivable as external hospital services than ever before.

The flexibility of spatial structures will become increasingly important.

Wellbeing and health-promoting offers, as well as patient participation, will play a more significant role in future healthcare.

Simulated building designs before building work begins will improve operative processes and the user experience in future.

This requires further explanation. Above all, however, we should note that it is impossible to outline the digital hospital of the future without also taking the digital revolution in building planning into account. Not only healthcare is reforming on the path towards the digital age; the way in which we plan and construct buildings is also experiencing fundamental transformation. A few of the developments in digitised care that are key to hospital building are briefly summarised below.

Networked healthcare landscape

Cloud-based patient data storage and the resulting electronic health records make access to health data available any time, anywhere. Tele-monitoring and telemedicine also enable the direct transfer of data and images, as well as the direct exchange of opinions on them, regardless of where people are. Healthcare providers from all sectors can thereby come together in a network to ensure a “continuum of care”. Healthcare centres near to people’s homes, acting as an access portal to the healthcare system, are becoming increasingly important and relieve the burdens on hospitals. Non-programmed hospital stays can thus be largely minimised. This trend towards outpatient care will additionally benefit from the continuing advances in minimally invasive surgical methods.

Doctor-patient communication

Mobile, smart devices equipped with sensors allow patients to record many of their health-related data themselves and pass them on (patient-reported data/outcome). In this way, medical histories, simple diagnoses and therapies from home can be communicated online from home by patients themselves or with the help of telemedical support. Furthermore, digital monitoring and digital transfers enable the long-term, integrated assessment of treatment results outside the hospital, allowing patients to be reintegrated into their living environment.

Networked systems in the hospital

Inside hospitals, all processes (examination processes, health data, patient and personnel flows, device use and material flows) are depicted and mutually networked in the Internet of Things (IoT). Time-consuming, repetitive work such as temperature measurements are recorded using sensor technology (e.g. integrated into the patient’s bed) and presented in the patient’s digital file. Automated and semi-automated processes (including the use of intelligent goods or bed transportation systems and follow-me carts) will have an effect on all forms of movement in the building (logistics, personnel, patients and their loved ones). A “hospital cockpit” controls the navigation of personnel, patients, visitors, devices and materials through the building.

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