Innovation Expands Healthcare Options

Blogger: Mike Doiel, Architecture Program Director l Omaha, Nebraska, USA
March 30, 2017

Whether you’re in Antarctica, on the International Space Station, or living in hurricane-prone areas such as Haiti or Galveston, Texas, the need for healthcare is a common denominator in each of these extreme environments. This topic was the center of a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and chronicled in a recent publication by the HHS IDEA Lab. The session was combined with a visit to the nation’s first “makerspace” at University of Texas, Medical Branch.

Representing HDR, as the design firm for the new hurricane-resistant Jennie Sealy Replacement Hospital, I was humbled by those in attendance: Flight surgeons and astrophysicists from NASA, a biologist from the CDC and scientists from NIH, physicians (providing remote care to those operating in remote installations) along with hospital administrators and other colleagues. These individuals definitely raised the intellectual bar for our small- and large-group sessions.

After a short while, it was apparent that all of us in our respective fields experience common barriers, and that we use innovation as a vehicle to overcome constrained environments. Using design process improvement where tools don’t exist will almost always drive innovation. As we shared stories of creating a “wash-and-wear” hospital, using Skype to diagnose and treat maladies, via remote locations ninety miles above the earth’s surface, or creating simple medical devices with 3D laser printers, we realized we’re all shocking the system with innovative methodologies.

Part of the highlight reel during this symposia involved visiting NASA and touring the workshop/lab that is developing components for the Mars Mission. Just think what it would be like to be six months away from earth, in time travel, and 20 minutes between voice-to-voice communications. Since humans can’t be re-engineered—yet—a system-engineering solution is needed. For instance, just dealing with normal heat dissipation from the body requires new technologies to enhance the capabilities of space suits.

One thing is certain, the only constant is change, and we as colleagues must collaborate to address the obstacles that prevent us from providing care, with positive outcomes, in low-resource and technology-limited environments. I especially remember part of the mantra of a former engineer at Virgin Galactic airlines, ‘try it, fly it, fix it, fly it.’ Innovation is rarely accomplished without trial and error, and the need to succeed is a tireless, but rewarding experience. You can find more on the HHS IDEA Lab at https://www.hhs.gov/idealab/. Enjoy!   

Images provided by Mike Doiel.