In 1972, 20th Century Fox debuted M*A*S*H, a TV show highlighting the escapades of medical staff at a mobile hospital unit during the Korean War. And although the idea behind mobile healthcare and mobile hospitals isn’t new, within the last few months the healthcare industry has seen a rapid expansion of portable medical units and they’re far more robust, unique, and technologically advanced than those portrayed in M*A*S*H.
“Mobile healthcare has been a necessity in battling today’s public health crisis,” explained industry expert, Tim Waters of Equinix. “Traditionally, in a military setting, mobile hospitals have been best known for emergency care but now, and especially thanks to advancements in the field, we’re seeing mobile healthcare units being used for testing and even accommodating ICU patients. Beyond that, we’re seeing mobile healthcare take on a literal meaning and actually bring health services to patients’ front doors.”
To expand patient capacity, specifically for ICU care, architects at HGA took to the drawing board along with the help of engineers, virtual reality programmers, and hospital staff including critical care nurses and doctors. As a result, they’ve created “STAAT Mods,” otherwise known as detachable intensive care and medical-surgical rooms, an alternative to medical tents. Easily inserted into sports stadiums or convention centers, these units, recognized as Strategic, Temporary, Acuity-Adaptable Treatment (STAAT), allow for the treatment of COVID-19 outside of the hospital but with the same level of quality.
According to TwinCities.com who interviewed Kate Mullaney, a national healthcare research strategist for HGA, these mobile hospitals are designed to operate independently – or plug into existing utilities – and “bring the power, the water, the electrical, the med-gas, and provide that in a rural location where there’s no hospital for 40 miles, or a Target parking lot,” explained Mullaney.
In addition to mobile hospitals, healthcare has also seen the introduction of mobile testing units, ones that quite literally meet patients where they’re at – their homes. With hospitals having just returned to doing nonemergent, elective, surgeries, patients need a variety of tests before going under including being tested for COVID-19. To avoid having patients come into the hospital, organizations like Ascension Seton have launched mobile labs to do necessary testing from patients’ front porches. And, although testing is the primary use, these labs will also be used for x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood work screenings in the near future.
“[These mobile labs] will last long after COVID,” explained Dr. James M. Callas, chief medical officer for Ascension Medical Group Temple and Ascension Medical Group Georgetown, in an interview with the Stephenville Empire-Tribune. “Virtual [and mobile] care is something that is going to stay in patients’ lives.”
While mobile healthcare will continue to advance technologically and remain important well after COVID-19, the key to this kind of care is the ability to connect data about the patient and deliver it in real time to physicians at the point of care, even with the point of care outside the four walls of the hospital.
“One of the most critical elements of mobile healthcare are EHRs because they’re needed in any treatment situation,” explained Waters. “Ultimately a mobile hospital or mobile lab needs an electronic health system that enables interconnectivity through the organization, management, and sharing — among providers — of patient data. That’s what keeps positive patient care the top priority.”
The mobile healthcare patients are experiencing today has evolved significantly from how it’s been delivered in the past. With today’s mobile hospitals and labs more technologically advanced, the ability to treat patients for a full spectrum of needs from testing to intensive care is achievable. This is made possible when healthcare organizations, first and foremost, prioritize interconnectivity.
Move over M*A*S*H, the future is here.