The healthcare sector is constantly evolving as technology becomes more sophisticated. St Stephen’s Private Hospital in Hervey Bay, Queensland, which officially opened last month, is the first fully integrated digital hospital in regional Australia. New ways of working meant a new approach to design.

Designed by Conrad Gargett Riddel AMW, the $96 million facility houses the country’s first full electronic medical record (EMR) and digital patient management system, in addition to a digital drug dispensing facility and a capacity to monitor patients during surgeries.


Image: Christopher Fredrik Jones

Operated by UnitingCare Health, everything in the facility from X-rays to equipment monitoring in theatres will be done electronically.

These advanced wireless technologies are expected to generate efficiencies, improve safety and clinical outcomes, and create higher levels of patient and clinician satisfaction.

David Peters, principal, Conrad Gargett Riddel AMW highlights nine of the key challenges for the design team:

  1. Fitting all the additional services into standard size spaces. The challenge has been to create and maintain an environment for better healing and less stress with the digital inclusion. Each patient room has an interactive touch-screen “patient station” with all relevant services and entertainment at their fingertips. This station includes meal ordering, internet, and television. Staff will similarly have access to all digital records via a clinical station.
  2. Providing fail-safe systems to ensure continual services (digital management). This includes Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) requirements, ordering of goods and staff records.
  3. Coordinating and developing the design of the “digital hospital” when digital technology is constantly evolving.
  4. Understanding the parameters of integration to allow complete access to digital records. Connectivity engines will allow old technology to talk to new technology.
  5. Understanding the consequences of increased equipment quantities. All medical devices are now linked to the system via hardwire data connections or wirelessly from anywhere within the hospital.
  6. Connecting staff via smart applications. The challenge was to find suitable space to charge tablet devices without impeding the function of that space.
  7. With an increased number of hard technical items, the challenge was to provide adequate soft spaces to reduce the impact of the technological world, particularly in an aging community.
  8. Managing the design and planning whilst still maintaining the design intent and budget with an evolving brief for additional services.
  9. Designing for future stages. The building can be expanded to 180 beds and 8 theatres, without disruption to existing services. In terms of the technological requirements, the data centre has been designed to cope with the eventual maximum size of the development.

Although a digital hospital sounds expensive, it did not come at the expense of everything else.

“The hospital budget contained specific funding for the ehealth component of the hospital,” explained Peters. “This came thanks to a large grant from the Commonwealth Health and Hospital Fund. The fund allocated $21 million to ICT and eHealth. There was an additional $15.5 million from UnitingCare health and the software vendor Cerner to ensure the success of this project. It is hoped St Stephens Hospital will prove a pilot for further digitisation of UnitingCare’s other hospital assets.”

“The separation of the funding meant the design features including the aesthetics were not compromised,” he added. “The funding model also allowed the design team to think outside of the box when it came to finishes. The bedrooms are an excellent example. The rooms are considered more “hotel” and less hospital with carpet being used as the preferred flooring option.”

Fully interactive patient room

Fully interactive patient room

Stage one of St Stephen’s Hospital includes 96 inpatient beds, with six renal dialysis chairs and six day oncology chairs. This will be expanded to 132 inpatient beds in stage two and eventually to 180 inpatient beds.