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Lehigh Valley Business’ 2020 Healthcare Symposium

By Megan Henry, Associate AIA, Project Designer, MKSD architects

COVID-19 has caused many changes in our personal and professional lives – including attendance of events. This past August I had the opportunity to virtually represent MKSD at the Lehigh Valley Business 2020 Healthcare Symposium – a discussion focused on the future of telehealth and healthcare for employers.  Panelists included representatives from Preferred EAP, Highmark, Inc., Lehigh Valley Health Network, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Healthcare, and Robbins Rehabilitation East.  As healthcare designers, it is imperative to understand the challenges and current trends in healthcare to forecast how they might translate into the spaces we design.

Recently, COVID-19 has demanded a quick response to the development of telehealth, employee well-being and flexibility of spaces.  We have seen hospitals built in just a few days, doctors visiting patients from the comfort of their own homes, and the transformation of hospitals into COVID care centers.  The biggest takeaway from the symposium: virtual healthcare, is here to stay.

Virtual healthcare has been on the rise in the United States for the past ten years.  In response to recent stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, the need for virtual access to patients has increased drastically.  Panelists stressed the importance of accessibility, cost, and convenience; all of which have been escalated due to the pandemic.  Virtual healthcare provides accessible and convenient services for patients who may otherwise not have been able to get to a doctor for a variety of reasons – transportation, mobility, quarantine, etc.  During the pandemic there was a decrease in patient volume,  due to fear, causing deferment of essential (and sometimes lifesaving) care.  On the flip side, there has been an increase in mental healthcare patients as many have been experiencing depression, loneliness, and isolation through this time of social distancing.  Across the board, virtual healthcare is changing the way we provide and receive care for the better.

So, how does this affect the way we design healthcare facilities?  Will we still need brick and mortar facilities? If you think back to when banking first started to develop virtual services, we faced similar questions.  Although some banks have closed, for the most part we continue to utilize these buildings to obtain specific services such as cashing checks, mortgage servicing, etc.  However, many of these facilities have adapted to better serve clients in services that cannot be achieved online.  Similarly, when we look at healthcare there are still many procedures and care options that require us to visit a building and interact with providers.  As virtual healthcare increases, there may be opportunity to provide flexible spaces that can be utilized for a variety of uses – in-person care, virtual visits, or even pandemic overflow care space.  We might also begin to question the location and types of services offered to better serve the patient population.  Perhaps the greatest benefit of virtual healthcare is its accessibility and adaptability as we work through what the future of healthcare buildings will look like.

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