Designing for the Promise of Telehealth Communications

dsgw_RyanTurner2 By Ryan Turner, DSGW Architects, Healthcare Design

Back in the 20th century, we called it “telemedicine”—a name dating from the era teletypes and rotary phones. Few kids today even know what these devices did.

Today, information-sharing systems for data, sound, video and even virtual reality are tied into almost every room of new clinics and hospitals. DSGW plans for integrated communications to support every type of treatment and service with appropriate spaces and technologies for each.

Reflecting this wave of change, “Telehealth” is now the umbrella term for a broad spectrum of communication types. For example, Telepsychology connects people with therapists through high-resolution video and sound. For facilties in northern Minnesota, we designed comfortable rooms that feel much like a psychologist’s office. Though far from their therapist, patients can build a relationship just as they might in face-to-face meetings.

For patients with wounds and potential infections, Dermascope technology provides real-time interaction with outside specialists.  A surface contact microscope can examine skin lesions and provide high-resolution images to a remote provider. In treatment and urgent care rooms such as FirstLight in Pine City, Minnesota, cameras will be able to move and zoom in the direction of consulting specialists. No matter where they are located, everyone becomes part of a seamless team.

“Telehealth” for Every Part of Healthcare


Telehealth technology is also transforming the work of administrators, billing and finance units, and support staff. At Ely-Bloomenson, we are designing all of the rooms in the pharmacy unit for distance communications with outside specialists. When complex situations arise, Telepharmacy technologies can make drug prescription and compounding much more effective and safe for patients.

Telehealth technology supports continuing education the entire staff and internal team communications within far-flung healthcare systems. Also important, the administrative efficiencies of new communications for billing, accounting, and management are helping to preserve the economic viability and prosperity of clinics in remote areas.

Telehealth is enriching the entire rural healthcare system. It’s a much broader and more basic connection that the old days of telemedicine. The word “health” comes from old English and once meant “whole” along with the ideals of prosperity, happiness, welfare, preservation, and safety.

What could be a better description for our healthcare goals today?

Three Tips to Consider:

  • Communications are ever-changing. Design facilities with the flexibility for updates.
  • Telehealth supports the whole clinic operation. Different departments require specific communication systems and the designed space to support them.
  • Create regular staff surveys to see how they are using Telehealth and their opinions for improving its role across your system.