Podcast Care & Health

Author Johan Op de Beeck interviewed Catherine Goldberg, Managing Director Iris Hospitals South, and Diederik Van Der Linden, Director Pharma, about the societal challenges concerning care and health. Listen to the interview on Sweco’s podcast channel.

Transforming Society Together #06

Forget all the clichés about hospitals and care homes. The care facility of the future is well accessible, a place bathed in sunlight... Big data will keep the side effects of medication to a minimum, immunotherapy will be personalized and microscopically small cameras will do the scanning work. But however advanced the technology may be, the wellbeing of both patients and healthcare workers will always be crucial. In this podcast, we hear from hospital managing director Catherine Goldberg and Diederik Van Der Linden, Director Pharma at Sweco Belgium, how all this works in practice. And clearly, we can’t talk about the healthcare sector during the Covid-19 pandemic without touching on Belgian expertise in the pharmaceutical sector as well.

Wellbeing remains a priority

Dealing with the pandemic health crisis has made it even clearer how much we need a strong public health service, along with home care and remote care. Well-equipped, specialised hospitals with sufficient capacity are equally vital. Building, renovating and extending hospitals is always a high-tech operation with complex demands.

Sector with the highest standards
Sweco has a long tradition and contemporary expertise in engineering and project management in hospitals, residential care homes and pharmaceutical companies. As Diederik Van Der Linden explains, “There is no other sector that has to comply with such comprehensive and stringent regulations and quality requirements. Nevertheless, a good care facility is first and foremost a place which can offer a pleasant stay, and which avoids all the existing stigmas (no parking, unpleasant smells, cluttered corridors, little natural light and so on). The quality of life for staff who work or stay there is of paramount importance. These are the people who offer patients the most efficient cure and care, which means they need maximum support from the building, technology and their surroundings. That quality of stay is determined by all kinds of aspects and disciplines, such as the architecture, setting, accessibility, climate control, acoustics, organisation (including logistics) and technological support.”

Catherine Goldberg illustrates the point with a pertinent example: “In our new building, every room in intensive care has a huge window. We have found that that has a strong influence on the way people come out of a coma. Intensive care units used to be put in less attractive places, such as the basement, because people didn’t think it mattered. Now, though, we are realising that it has an immense influence on recovery. The same applies to the presence of greenery or an environment that doesn’t feel too much like a hospital. We also need to think in terms of a joined-up service, so the distances between departments are kept as short as possible.”

Creating healing environments
There are four major focal points that will determine the future of hospitals, asserts Catherine Goldberg. “The first point is an architectural challenge, because hospitals are going to need to reinvent their architecture. The second, obvious point is a challenge at the human level, that of manpower. Then there is the technological challenge, which is increasingly present. Finally, there is an IT challenge linked to the technological one. These are the four areas in which I believe we are going to see major changes.”

Another sticking point is mobility. Many hospitals are struggling with acute parking problems, but a profusion of ‘static’ parking places is not sustainable either, given the modal shift and the potential of self-driving cars and ‘mobility as a service’. Energy and climate neutrality are also tricky issues. Obviously we are in favour, but technological developments, changes in usage, limited budgets and all kinds of environmental factors make this very challenging.

The healthcare sector is becoming increasingly future-proof in all areas, from robot surgery and micro-radiology to the creation of networks, extending outpatient care, and integrating residential care homes in the fabric of the city. In turn, the pharmaceutical sector is heavily committing to big data and statistical models to predict and avoid possible side effects of medication.

How feasible and affordable is all this? “Feasibility and affordability begin with the development of a good, phased plan that allows you to take things in various directions”, Diederik Van Der Linden tells us. “That is why we sometimes rely on third-party financing, such as the Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) that we regularly work with. In the hospital sector, the important thing is to design a high-quality healing environment that can respond quickly and easily to all these trends, with the result that expansions, rearrangements and refurbishments can be done in the most sustainable (and ideally circular) manner.” As attractive as the building may be, concludes Catherine Goldberg, and as pioneering as the technology may be, warm-hearted care from motivated staff will always be essential and irreplaceable.