New portable units create instant palliative care rooms

Image: Digital render of the Pal-care unit

A husband and wife research team from Monash University have designed portable units that temporarily transform acute and sub-acute hospital rooms into palliative care spaces.

With a fold-out bed for overnight guests and a digital connectivity module, the designs allow end-of-life patients to digitally connect with family, which is especially important during COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

In Australia, only about a third of palliative patients receive care in a designated palliative care room. Of the country’s 673 public acute hospitals, only 133 have dedicated hospice units, about a third of which are located in NSW.

Dr Thinn Thinn Khine, from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and Monash Health, realised there was a need for a better palliative care model after she farewelled her mother in a Victorian palliative care unit two years ago.

Together with her husband Dr Nyein Aung, Senior Design Research Officer at Monash Design Health Collab in the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture, they set out to improve the end-of-life experience in hospitals.

During this personal experience and journey, we have noted that there are significant knowledge and design gaps in health system infrastructure and service design in relation to facilitating family togetherness in end-of-life care.

Dr Khine, Clinical Lead on the project

“Thinn Thinn took most of the night shifts, and I accompanied her every night, but the palliative care room and the furniture inside was not meant for two overnight visitors, so I had to sleep on the floor,” said Dr Aung the Design Lead.

“From this experience, we designed a system to help create better end-of-life care for palliative care patients.”

Consisting of a guest bed that folds out of a cabinet and a digital connectivity module, the system allows the palliative care patient to have family stay overnight and allows for the personalisation of the hospital room.

The digital connectivity module can be used to display iPads or electronic communications devices, enabling patients to digitally spend time with family, beyond the hospital.

The digital connectivity module has received a high level of support from clinicians in the current COVID-19 pandemic - where many people are still undergoing palliative care in hospitals but family members are unable to visit due to strict restrictions and pandemic control.

“The main advantage of this system is improved family togetherness - both physically and digitally. The digital connectivity module is especially relevant now due to physical distancing and current jurisdictional requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic, and people are dying alone,” Dr Khine said.

“Our resource-lean health system is unlikely to be able to build enough dedicated spaces to meet the demand anytime soon, but our designs will enable rapid and temporary conversion of patient's rooms into palliative care rooms as needed,” Dr Aung said.

The portable system is at the concept visualisation stage and the researchers aim to develop a working physical prototype by December 2020, which is likely to be tested at Kingston Centre, Monash Health.

Dr Khine and Dr Aung collaborated on the project with Professor Barbara Workman, Professor of Geriatric Medicine. Director, Monash Ageing Research Center (MONARC) and Medical Director, Rehabilitation and Aged Care Services, Monash Health and Dr Hanmei Pan, Geriatric Medicine Consultant, Rehabilitation and Aged Care Services, Monash Health.

The design research and development process of the project received support through Creative Victoria's Creators Fund.

“This project is a powerful example of the ways design and creative thinking can be utilised to help tackle challenges across the community and in a range of industries,” said Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley.

“Victorian designers created the polymer bank note, the baby capsule, the black box and so much more and we are proud to support this latest design innovation which proposes a deeply compassionate, creative and practical solution for healthcare providers the world over.”