The High-Tech Hospital of the Future

Technology of all kinds is transforming the way medical systems work.

For the past three years, Kevin has been using a remote monitoring device to send daily readings of his vital signs to Kaiser Permanente's Riverside Hospital.
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Room change. Palomar's rooms will also be "acuity adaptable," meaning that as the patient's condition changes, the room can, too—becoming an intensive care unit temporarily, say. Studies show that moving patients less frequently results in fewer falls and medication errors. The traditional centralized nursing station will be replaced by stations outside rooms, where a nurse checking in can see the patient.

Some design changes and concepts speak more to hospitality than healthcare: plush furnishings, parking spaces near the door, a self-serve kiosk check-in system that—like a global positioning system—instructs you where to go ("take 10 steps forward and turn right down the corridor labeled 'east wing' "). Such a focus on comfort "creates a healing environment and helps people feel like they have some control," says Bruce Schroffel, CEO of the University of Colorado Hospital. (Skeptics note it may also give facilities a competitive edge in attracting affluent patients with good insurance.) One day soon, patients may be able to order meals, adjust the room temperature and lighting, surf the Internet, and videoconference with family using a remote control in bed.

Or it may take a little bit longer than anticipated. According to an April survey by the American Hospital Association, nearly 8 in 10 hospitals report that they have stopped, postponed, or scaled back facility upgrades or information technology projects because of the economy's recent woes. "The recession is clearly slowing construction projects down," says James Bentley, a senior vice president at the AHA. "How much, we'll see." At whatever pace, though, change is coming.