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Smart glass will transform hospitals

  Subscribe to FREE newsletter  May 30, 2014

Technology is set to combine aesthetics and functionality to improve patient care and hygiene.

by Matthew Gordon

What if doctors and nurses could periodically check on a patient without disturbing him, while simultaneously allowing him to maintain a sense of privacy and dignity? What if hospitals allowed natural light to flow through unoccupied patient rooms? What if you could automatically reduce the number of germs present in a room and increase patient health and well-being without lifting a finger?

With smart glass, all of these things are possible.

Smart glass, or switchable glass, can transform from privacy glass to near-transparent glass with the addition or removal of an electrical charge. In its natural state, smart glass is cloudy and opaque. It’s only when the electric current is turned on that it becomes clear. This technology allows hospitals to do two very important things: improve patient care and reduce energy costs.

Improving patient care

According to Herman Miller’s Healthcare division’s research paper, “Access to daylight has been found to reduce pain, depression, and length of stay as well as improve patient and staff satisfaction.” Even rooms with nine-foot windows only allow natural light to penetrate a 13-foot distance. Smart glass, however, allows it to reach further, helping patients heal and return home sooner.

Controlling noise is another essential element of good patient care. This same research paper states: “Decreasing noise levels improves patient sleep and patient satisfaction, and it decreases stress for patient and staff alike. Conversely, too much noise raises blood pressure and raises the risk of medical errors because staff can’t hear instructions.”

Not only does smart glass provide better visual and aural privacy than curtains, but it also drastically reduces stress-elevating noise levels that can cause medical errors.

An obvious hospital concern is the suppression of germs to protect patients, staff, and visitors. Glass surfaces can be treated to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi on contact. A new antibacterial glass developed by AGC Glass Europe reportedly kills 99.9 percent of bacteria and maintains its functionality over time.

Reducing energy costs

Healthcare administrators are always looking to reduce operating costs. According to an article in HMC Architects: “It is common to find healthcare facilities with lighting systems that consume as much as 30 percent of a hospital’s energy costs and as much as eight percent of its operating budget.”

Hospitals using smart glass technology can allow natural light to flow from room to room when unoccupied, drastically reducing energy costs spent on lighting. Furthermore, glass treated with an insulating glaze can reduce energy costs by helping hospitals with temperature management.

Though using smart glass in hospital renovations would require removing existing structures to add glass walls, the process would be much simpler for new hospitals. At around $200 per square foot, the biggest concern is, by far, the initial cost.

However, this problem can be addressed by taking into account the cost savings of smart glass, including reduced energy expenses, less patient time onsite, lower employee turnover and absenteeism due to illness, and more versatile use of space.

The Hospital of the future

In the future, glass walls will allow patient charts and vitals to be displayed digitally on the surface. We will see hospitals with operable glass walls that allow for the restructuring of rooms on the fly.

If, for example, a trauma situation occurs, all the rooms in a hospital could be converted into an open floor plan. On the other hand, administrators needing additional recovery rooms could convert all available space into patient rooms.

The hospitals of the future will combine operable glass walls, bacteria-resistant glass, and smart glass to create a versatile, high-tech space that kills bacteria, enables privacy with the push of a button, helps medical staff work efficiently, and heals with natural lighting.

We are developing technologies today that will combine aesthetics, functionality, and improved patient care. The future of hospitals isn’t just bright; it’s naturally bright.

Matthew Gordon is the President and CEO of Gordon Group, a holding company for multiple e-commerce businesses, including Avanti Systems. AvantiSystemsUSA is a European-based glass company that supplies and installs architectural glass wall and glass door systems. With over 25 years of experience, Avanti delivers some of the best world-class glass systems for offices and commercial spaces.

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