HMT-Editor-Phil-ColpasLaboratories have long been the domain of scientists; a place where they are free to experiment, to collaborate, to invent and to see what works and what doesn’t. What if that same model for improving function could be used not only to discover new and better treatments for diseases, but to find better ways to treat patients themselves every day in hospital settings?

Kaiser Permanente is doing just that with its Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center, a 37,000-square-foot warehouse turned Hollywood-style set in San Francisco. There, healthcare teams explore, prototype and evaluate innovations with patients, physicians, nurses, architects and health information technology experts. The center serves as a test-and-trial site for the advancements Kaiser Permanente implements in all of its medical facilities to improve its healthcare delivery.  

“This place is the only one of its kind,” explains Center Director Jennifer Liebermann in a virtual tour presentation. “What’s really cool is that many of the innovations developed here are spread to our facilities, so they benefit our 8.8 million members. One thing to keep in mind is that this is a living laboratory, so you may see things here that aren’t quite at our facilities yet. But stay tuned.”

Intrigued? Well, even if you were in the San Francisco Bay area, you still wouldn’t be able to see it; the center isn’t open to the public. There is, however, another way; the well-crafted virtual tour is available for anyone to view at:

The tour begins, appropriately, in the lobby and continues through other key parts of the futuristic facility, including the mobility information lab, where state-of-the-art mobile tools and technology are tested; nursing unit, which concentrates on improving processes, safety and workflow; operating room, where surgeons and specialists can communicate in real time, regardless of location; patient room, which features an interactive flat-screen display and motion sensors to alert staff if a patient falls; and NICU, the sleek, 21st-century layout of which is in stark contrast to a half-century-old photo featured in the presentation of what appears to be a baby in a filing cabinet.

And although utilizing the latest technology wherever possible is certainly an important part of the mission, Christi Zuber, Kaiser Permanente’s director of consultancy, reminds us virtual tourers that, “Ideas and innovations can be not only impactful, but low cost and low tech.”

Examples of these low-tech improvements can be found in the center’s lobby, which features padded chairs with small circular desks attached; in the patient rooms, where warm colors, textures and fabrics are more reminiscent of a hotel than a hospital; and the triangular design of the prototypical nursing unit of the future, which is “intended to reduce the steps caregivers need to take to get to patients, supplies and technical assistance,” says VP of Facilities Planning John Kouletsis during the virtual tour. “It really makes it much easier and quicker for our staff to move about.”

Better design for better care. Let’s hope it’s contagious.


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