Never before in living memory have our health systems been so clearly and obviously challenged. They have been at the heart of the storm that is the present pandemic – simultaneously core to our response to COVID-19, and the same time profoundly impacted by it.
Front line health workers have been thrust into difficult roles. Parts and players in our systems have been overwhelmed; while others have been partially or entirely shut down. Necessity has imperiously called for new methods, new practices, new technologies to address new risks, new outbreaks, new demand.
Our systems must adapt. They must be dynamic. We must find ways to help our health systems, spaces, and capacities become more responsive – rather than merely just overborne by or even resistant – to change. Facing a situation riddled with uncertainty and unpredictability, every aspect of the healthcare system has had to be re-evaluated in response to the pandemic: from clinical policy, to business process, to technology, to training.
A crucial lesson from the pandemic so far – which has probably received relatively less attention – is the pressure that COVID-19 has placed on physical spaces. Healthcare providers have had to re-think – at times completely – how they use and manage physical infrastructure, including:
- Converting non-healthcare spaces to deliver services. Who would have thought we would be turning carparks into mass testing facilities, or convention centres into pop-up ICU facilities?
- Rapidly repurposing existing healthcare spaces, such as turning general purpose wards into ICU facilities, as happened around Australia including at St Vincent’s on the Park in Melbourne.
- Reconfiguring and mobilising ICU facilities to deal with the infectious nature of COVID-19, its geographic elements, and overcome the tyranny of distance through the use digital tools so clinicians, family and friends can communicate with patients safely.
Cisco provided RMIT University – home to the Cisco Health Transformation Lab – with funding under its global Country Digitisation Acceleration program to look at the issue of dynamic infrastructure in healthcare in more detail. The result is this report that provides a framework for how to think about future health spaces and their adaptability, as well as examples from around the world.
A central conclusion of the report is that digital infrastructure – not just physical buildings – is central to making health care spaces dynamic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us we can no longer presume that the physical infrastructure we design or build can or will be solely used for its original purpose. While spatial infrastructure is important, the key to creating dynamic spaces and capabilities is increasingly physical and digital networks: adaptable connections and dynamics that can learn, reshape, and redesign processes, capacity, and indeed spaces – allowing for quick responses to unexpected situations and improvement in response to volatility.
Infrastructure is increasingly about digital platforms and capability as much as bricks and mortar. In fact COVID-19 has helped to reinforce the fact that the single piece of infrastructure that needs to be permanently accessible is technological: the network.“
– Dynamic Health Capacity: Towards adaptable health systems in times of crisis
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