Healthcare Lighting: The Future of Health is Digital Disruption

by | Aug 26, 2021 | News

It can be quite tricky to predict the future of healthcare. Experts struggle to determine where the industry might be headed but undoubtedly the healthcare industry is on the brink of massive change because new technologies have changed so much about how doctors work. It is important to consider how the lighting industry can demonstrate to the health care industry the opportunities for decreasing cost and increasing return on investment with new lighting technology and how lighting can be part of the personalization of health care as well as technology that learns and can help nurses and other health care providers do a better job. How this will happen remains to be seen. But understanding the trends in health care with a holistic view of lighting is an important part of the process.

The demands of an ageing population, a changing workforce and new technologies will shape the future of healthcare ecosystems. New models of healthcare delivery and changing users’ needs will fundamentally change healthcare systems and infrastructure – from the hospital to the home. Sustainability, smart technology and digital services will be fundamental to this transformation, reshaping the delivery and access of healthcare services of the future. Flexible and adaptable healthcare facilities and systems are needed to ensure resilience against these changing requirements.

Remedi by Hubbell Lighting

Patient Room with Evexia | Credit Hubbell Lighting

Of all the products needed to build new healthcare facilities or update existing ones, none has undergone the basic changes in selection criteria that lighting has. While components like HVAC systems and building envelopes have been improved upon incrementally over time, lighting has been rocked by the growing use of LEDs. This shift has changed the way architects, lighting designers, and healthcare facility decisionmakers approach this specific piece of the building puzzle, evaluating the cost of lighting buildings and the quality of the light that’s emitted and its effects on patients and staff. Beyond functionality and performance, lighting design can play an important role in human health. In addition to designing for the visual system, it is important to consider the development of lighting solutions that address the needs of the circadian system.

Over recent decades the role of lighting in healthcare settings has become the subject of increasing interest. This has been driven by the need to reduce energy consumption and by the recognition that physical environment can influence health, well-being, and length of hospital stays. Lighting designs used to be based primarily on visual needs, but now we need a new, evidence-based approach that takes into account human needs, architectural integration and energy consumption. Rightly these approaches begin with the patient; but it is equally important to understand how lighting can improve staff well-being and productivity, since this has a major impact on patient care as well as on the overall running of the care facilities.

The medical and healthcare industries are some of the most technologically innovative fields. With transformative medical devices, treatments and processes, the industry is constantly changing and innovation is always at the forefront. Often patients try to self-diagnose by looking up their symptoms on the internet or get wellness tips from a device. Following up with a healthcare provider becomes step two, as opposed to a first action. Although there are many innovations in healthcare, the digital demand is outpacing the current healthcare model. Assets like knowledge-bases, automation, virtual care and AI and IoT will all play a critical role. IoT spend alone is estimated to grow by $140 billion in 2022. The model needs to be transformed and digital needs to be embedded in everything we do.

When it comes to the future of healthcare design, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has healthy written all over it. AI seems poised to revolutionize medical diagnostics, treatment and research and to transform the way medical offices collect, understand and use data on patient health. Artificial intelligence means that medical offices and clinics will be able to use AI to treat patients on a whole new level. For example, AI could help diagnosing patients in parts of the world where there is a shortage of doctors, without the doctor having to actually be on location and physically see the patient. And AI will also play a key role in healthcare lighting systems in the next future.

The role of lighting and lighting controls in the coronavirus calculus might not be as readily apparent as PPE protocol, seating separation, or high-touch hygiene, but like all aspects of our physical work space, every point of contact and each environmental element needs to be considered. Many technologies currently exist, and as with other trends affected by the pandemic, the most relevant will see an acceleration of implementation. While COVID-19 has affected virtually every sector of our lives, it’s transformed no part of the built environment more than healthcare. As existing spaces are being tested, architects and designers are hard at work (from home) looking at the best kinds of structures to transform into patient care facilities. The Coronavirus outbreak has brought to light many critical faults in the existing healthcare system. There is need for investments on tools to enable telehealth and remote monitoring options. In a time where inperson contact and access to hospitals is limited, we’ve fortunately seen some innovative developments to help adjust to these changing demands, including digital streaming of operating rooms to support surgical cases and virtual case management to provide real time support.

Photo Credit: Indigo-Clean® by Kenall

The lighting technology space has been flooded in the last months with claims of the disinfectant properties of “light”. Mostly this is a reference to UV radiation that is not on the visible light spectrum. Short wavelength UV-C bands have been used in the medical community for years to clean areas of high contact and contamination – used properly, they are effective against just about every type of germ, pathogen, or coronavirus. Furthermore, their use does not eliminate the need to physically clean surfaces but is a supplementary layer of sanitation. These technologies use a significant amount of additional energy, but as this is not lighting it is exempt from energy codes. Despite legitimate concerns around UV radiation, it can be helpful when carefully used. High-touch situations like healthcare, food services, mass transportation, public restrooms are all likely places to consider this technology to keep us safe.

Photo Credit: Indigo-Clean® by Kenall

Also visibility can be something important to take on account as it is easier to clean more thoroughly in a well-lit space so do not be surprised if higher light levels are demanded for deepcleaning purposes – control settings can always trim these levels down to normal occupant levels during working hours.

Sustainable healthcare encompasses the social, economic, and environmental facets of any project. Problems include carbon emissions decrease, energy use, reducing clinical waste, recycling, resource extraction (renewable or not renewable), etc.. Sustainability initiatives such as LEED and WELL place an emphasis not only on energy efficiency of lighting but also on the qualities of light that contribute to our wellness. Whether color quality, visual comfort, circadian stimulus, uniformity, or daylight – good lighting keep us healthier. Since ensuring a strong immune system is more important now than ever, expect to see a renewed emphasis on maximizing the healthy aspects of lighting.

The future of healthcare design has everything to do with the patients. The patient-first approach to better healthcare will keep getting more important. Putting patients first takes a shift of mind. The patient experience embraces interactions that patients have with the health care system. Adding more natural light into the space, for example floor-to-ceiling windows and glass curtain walls, reduce the need for artificial lighting and help improve patient and staff moods and the experience is much better.

Healthcare is experiencing an explosion of innovations designed to improve the patient experience. All healthcare organizations are already facing challenges like improving quality of the services they offer, reducing waste, increasing efficiency, lowering the costs. Healthcare designers see the benefits of flexible, multipurpose spaces. Due to the ever-changing and rapidly advancing medical technology, and shifts in the ways healthcare buildings function, it’s more important than ever for medical offices to be designed with adaptability and flexibility in mind.

The future of health will likely be driven by digital transformation enabled by radically interoperable data and open, secure platforms. Health is likely to revolve around sustaining well-being rather than responding to illness.

This article was originally featured in the August issue of designing lighting (dl)