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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Hospitals in the future will look far more tech-enabled and consumer-focused — when patients are actually even getting care in a hospital building itself.

Why it matters: Hospitals were already pushing more care outside their four walls before the pandemic. COVID accelerated that shift, forcing hospitals to reimagine what's possible to deliver in patients' homes, experts say.

The big picture: One way to picture what hospitals of the future will look like is to look at two brand new hospital buildings opened this fall by competing Pennsylvania health systems.

  • The buildings, by Penn Medicine and Highmark Health both offer hotel-like amenities such as better food, streaming services, and better-positioned outlets for cell phone charging. They've also made medical records more accessible to patients, executives say.
  • But they were also designed with the belief that, in the future, only the most complex care might be delivered in them.

State of play: Every medical room in Penn Medicine's new $1.6 billion health pavilion can be turned into an ICU-capable room when needed.

  • It added 7% in costs to the project, but made sense considering the ICU demands of the pandemic and "not knowing what the future will be," CEO Kevin Mahoney told Axios.
  • The hospital also offers patients bedside tablets that allow patients to control the light and temperature of the room, and to activate frosted privacy glass on the doors of their rooms.
  • The benefits are two-fold: patients really like it and it can help free up staff to focus on more critical tasks, Mahoney said.

"The pandemic was an amplifier for natural trends that were already starting to develop," Highmark CEO David Holmberg told Axios. "The complexity of medical procedures [in hospitals] is going to be significantly higher."

The bottom line: Tech advances will change the entire hospital experience no matter where the care is delivered.

  • Wearables will provide digital biomarkers to allow better patient monitoring from the home. "Smart" infrastructure will help patients find parking and navigate massive hospital campuses when they need to go into the hospital.
  • And 5G will allow doctors to pull up massive amounts of personalized data on a wireless screen in seconds, Hon Pak, chief medical officer at Samsung Electronics told Axios.
  • "The perspective we want to bring to the smart hospital is it's not just about caring for the condition or the disease, but it's about caring for the whole," Pak said.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 2, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on health equity in 2022

On Thursday, December 2nd, Axios health care reporter Tina Reed and congressional reporter Alayna Treene examined persisting health equity issues and the work underway to close gaps in access, featuring Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Baltimore City Health Department Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa, and Brown University dean of the School of Public Health & Professor of Health Services, Policy, & Practice Dr. Ashish K. Jha.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha identified the assumptions policymakers should be making about coronavirus through the winter season, what the pandemic highlighted in terms of health equity issues, and the most powerful tools to funding health inequity solutions.

  • On what policymakers should consider for coronavirus next year: “The big picture point I would make to policymakers is 2022 really should be our pivot year, the year we take this acute phase of the pandemic and turn it into something that we’re going to manage more chronically over the long run. What do we need to do that? Obviously, we need to continue to get more Americans vaccinated.”
  • On the pandemic’s exposure of longstanding health inequities: “It’s taken all of the challenges we’ve had, all of the longstanding inequities we’ve had in our country and really exposed them in a way and made them worse. It hasn’t created new inequities. I would say these inequities have existed for a long time, what it has really done is just highlight them in a way that is now hard to ignore.”

Rep. Robin Kelly discussed the health care initiatives in the Build Back Better agenda, the obstacles to health equity progress, and the policy provisions shaping next year’s health care agenda.

  • On obstacles standing in the way of progress: “People have different lenses, and I think that people know we need to get these things done. There’s no excuse for our maternal mortality rates, the health care disparities. COVID put a great big spotlight on the inequities and the disparities in this country.”
  • On upcoming health care policy priorities: “I think the Build Back Better Act is a great first step, but we’ll still be discussing maternal mortality, we’ll still be looking at health equity, we’ll still be looking at diversifying the health care pipeline, diversifying clinical trials, lowering prescription drug costs.”

Letitia Dzirasa explained potential impacts of the new Omicron variant on public health messaging, addressing health equity issues at a local level, and the public health challenges at the forefront for next year.

  • On looking at data and community input to inform health equity interventions: “I think it’s very important that we look at the data, that we understand the disparities and where they exist. But as we’re planning interventions and how best to implement a particular program or outreach method, we have to be community informed, so we’re looking to the community to plan alongside us.”
  • On the public health challenges defining the year ahead: “I think the important thing to note is that all of our other public health challenges did not go away because COVID came along, and so we’re going to be playing catch up in other public health areas for quite some time. I am encouraged by the increased federal funding going towards public health, but you have to remember this is an area that has been chronically underfunded.”

Axios Chief People Officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top segment with UnitedHealth Group senior vice president and chief health equity officer U. Michael Currie, who emphasized how addressing social determinants of health helps to advance health equity.

  • “You can’t have a conversation about achieving or advancing health equity and best addressing health disparities without having a real appreciation for what these social factors or social determinants of health have on individuals achieving their best possible health.”

Thank you UnitedHealth Group for sponsoring this event.

Updated 46 mins ago - Health

Massage, facial, pedicure... intravenous drip?

A salon on the Upper East Side of New York that offers IV drip therapies. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

IV drips — the kind you might get if you're rushed to the hospital — are trending as a spa treatment, thanks in part to endorsements by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Madonna.

Why it matters: Like other "wellness" trends with a whiff of medical imprimatur, IV nutrient drips can be harmless or mildly restorative — or go awry, particularly in the wrong hands.

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.