5 new veterinary hospital design trends

What's in store for the future of veterinary medicine? Come with me as I look into my crystal ball—and make predictions based on what's happening in human medicine.
Jul 31, 2013
By dvm360.com staff

Watching human medicine is like looking at the future of veterinary medicine through a crystal ball. Here’s a quick list of new ideas in human healthcare that I’ve recently come across and my predictions on how they can translate in the veterinary world.

1. Robotic sterilization

The next step in disinfecting is robotic hydrogen peroxide vaporization sterilizers. First used in Singapore in 2002 in response to an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), there are now about 20 hospitals in the United States using a hydrogen peroxide vaporization cleaning system to decontaminate patient rooms. Before a new patient arrives, the hospital staff wheels in a hydrogen peroxide vaporizer and turns it on. In the course of an hour or so it leaves a two to six micron thick layer of hydrogen peroxide on all surfaces including bedding, furniture, computers, keyboards, instruments and anything else in the room.

Because hydrogen peroxide can be toxic, a second smaller device is then activated to break down the bleach into its component water and oxygen parts. The results? In studies at John Hopkins University Hospital, the enhanced hydrogen peroxide cleaning reduced by 64 percent the number of patients who later became contaminated with any of the most common drug-resistant organisms.

So what does this mean for veterinarians?

Of course you aren’t going to use a device like this to clean patient rooms or cages, but there’s the very real possibility that at the close of the workday, when all your patients in the day ward have been sent home, you could set up a vaporizer in the ward. Other places where you could use a system like this would be in an orthopedic surgery room before an operation or in a special procedures room. Right now a hydrogen peroxide vaporizer robot, as manufactured by Bioquell, costs about $40,000. But just like everything else in this new high-tech world, I would imagine the cost will come down in time to the point where it will be standard equipment in any veterinary hospital.

2. No more waiting areas

I’ve written before about the idea of eliminating waiting in your waiting room, and ultimately eliminating the waiting room altogether. Now there’s an example of how this can be achieved. In seven new urgent care and outpatient human medical centers in St. Joseph, Mo., they have eliminated the waiting rooms. When patients step into the facility, they are greeted by a “life guide” who takes them directly to an exam room. There is no reception desk and there are no forms to fill out!

Friends or family who are attending with the patients can pass the time watching videos, playing games on a high-tech video wall or even watching a live healthful cooking demonstration in an adjacent kitchen. In truth, this design solution probably doesn’t cut down on the square footage of a facility, but it significantly changes the patient experience, and that’s the bottom line.

So what does this mean for veterinarians? Most veterinarians probably won’t install a demonstration kitchen, but it would be easy to take the majority of the square footage that’s given over to your typical waiting room and use it to build a few extra exam rooms. With the leftover square footage, a small yet comfortable internet café would be a very simple answer.

3. Technology that “talks back”

We are all familiar with wireless telemetry monitoring of patients for pulse, oxygen, temperature, etc. Not long ago this was new technology for veterinarians—now it’s become the norm. I’ve also written about real-time infrared tracking systems for monitoring staff, and this could include patients and equipment. The next step is bi-directional communication between equipment and a centralized filing system.

You’re likely familiar with automated medication dispensing cabinets (manufactured by Pyxsis or Cubex) that talk back—they’re interlocked to a central pharmacy system that keeps track of drugs dispensed and charges patient records. The next step is infusion pumps or beds that “talk back” to a central system. An infusion pump can tell a central system if a patient is receiving the prescribed fluids and at what rate. The bed can weigh a patient, contrast that information with prior weights and even confirm if the patient has left the bed.

So what does this mean for veterinarians?

For veterinarians, an infusion pump that talks back is probably already available. I could also imagine caging equipped with pressure pads that monitor weight and movement.

Another example of technology that talks back is Jawbone, an interactive high tech wristband that monitors your activity (movement, temperature, pulse). Why not Jawbones for animals? Wouldn’t it be handy to have a collar on an animal that was sent home after a hip replacement to monitor its activity remotely?

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4. Group appointments

In the world of human psychology, the medical profession has long used group therapy primarily to facilitate interaction between patients. But group therapy also has an additional plus that is seldom mentioned, namely that more patients can be treated at one time, more cost effectively. Granted group appointments may not be ideal for many common procedures, but if any of you are old enough to remember the draft, the army did a remarkable job of group appointments when they did en mass induction exams!

Luckily that was then, and this is now. Group appointments are very effective for patient education and wellness programs. Even while group appointments in human medicine typically run longer than individual appointments, human hospitals have often found it is a more effective way to see more patients with less staff than in a conventional individual appointment. There is also the distinct possibility that people are more open to learning in a peer environment versus a conventional doctor patient interaction.

So what does this mean for veterinarians?

For veterinarians, a group appointment might be the best way to encourage geriatric screening. Aren’t puppy classes really a group appointment that you might be offering for free? I think if you put your mind to it, there are all kinds of things that lend themselves to group appointments. Examples include obesity and diabetes, renal failure in cats and ACL and hip treatments. The only catch is that you need to design places to accommodate group appointments in your facility.

5. More urban planning

With more half of the U.S. population living in urban centers, the human medical community is beginning to rethink how medical care is provided to the growing population. Instead of building medical centers in suburban centers, there’s now an effort to build in urban centers. This is a trend that big box retailers are already pursuing. Target and K-Mart are opening smaller versions of their typical stores in inner city locations. Both human medicine and big box retailers are also discovering that inner city clients/patients and buyers have different needs than the typical suburban population and especially the rural population.

So what does this mean for veterinarians?

For veterinarians, it might make sense to look at how you could move into the city to be more of an inner city pioneer versus a suburban follower.

This brings me to the close of my crystal ball forecast for today. I’m sure there are more trends and technologies emerging in human medicine that will eventually trickle down to veterinary care. Heck, there’s even the possibility that the Affordable Healthcare Act could impact how your clients pay for pet medical care someday.

Your challenge is to keep your eyes open and watch for the “new thing” coming down the pike. Just like Everett Rogers talks about in his book Diffusion of Innovations (Free Press, 2003). He explains the innovation adoption lifecycle and discusses innovators and early adopters vs. the laggards. He identified trendsetters as the leading edge of innovation implementation. Boiling all the business management psychobabble down: the early bird gets the worm.

You can be the bird or the worm.