The Hospital Room Of The Future: Flexible, Media Rich, Very Shiny [Slideshow]

“Patient Room 2020” is designed to heal patients, and make it easy for family and doctors to care for them.

What will the future of in-patient health care look like? Perhaps something like the “Patient Room 2020,” a project that NXT, Clemson University, and Birdtree Design are trying to bring to market in the next 10 years.


The virtual prototype reveals a sleek multi-function space filled with light and fully loaded with such technology touch points as the “Patient Ribbon,” an all-in-one device that monitors vital signs, administers medical gases, and contains light controls and a digital media center. Though it’s easy to get lost in the possibilities of the technology, Tom Jennings, founder and principal of NXT, the nonprofit innovation firm funding the project, says it’s less about Hollywood-style futuristic bells and whistles and more about fostering more personal and proactive care for patients and their families.

According to Jennings, Patient Room 2020 has been in the works for a while. It’s the latest iteration of the Patient Room of the Future project originally commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2006. But Dina Battisto, associate professor of Clemson’s School of Architecture, said the health care industry needs this kind of innovation, effective immediately.

The room is constructed as a plug-and-play environment.

Battisto asserts that faculty and students from Clemson University’s Architecture + Health have been designing, building, and evaluating multiple patient room iterations for the last eight years. Now, she says, they are beginning to build working prototypes and test them to see if their designs can perform in real-life applications. “When you look at a typical hospital room, the technology and instrumentation is very chaotic and not designed to integrate,” adds David Ruthven of Birdtree Design. Patient Room 2020 turned that idea on its head. “We wanted to approach the room holistically,” he says.

As such, the room is constructed as a plug-and-play environment in which customizable, prefabricated components integrate all aspects of care. The Patient Ribbon, for example, is a digital, silent, flat screen headboard that captures vital signs, houses gases, and holds the controls for all forms of lighting in the room. Ruthven says it’s possible that it will be the first component to be integrated in existing hospitals in the next five years. A media center at the foot of the bed facilitates collaboration between caregivers, patients, and visitors, and provides connections to multimedia entertainment and hospital information.

While most of the medical care is conducted within the patient room, several key functions for patients, staff, and visitors occur at the entry to the space. Namely, the Staff Resource Station features sliding doors made from smart glass technology and includes digital alerts for patient allergies, food restrictions, or special conditions.

The orientation and location of digital elements in the room is intended to ergonomically empower a patient to make decisions and control nearly every aspect of their environment without much physical exertion. The bathroom is designed to provide patients and visitors with a safe, restorative environment with digital shower controls, ambient heart grab bars, a waterproof spa interface, and water conservation features. And in order to create a proper space for visitors without expanding the depth of the structural bay, the space is cantilevered out beyond the edge of the building.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.