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Ideas Made to Matter

Design

This MIT startup studies hospital health, one floor plan at a time

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The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all organizations — particularly hospitals — to rethink their spaces for the health of employees and anyone who walks through their doors.

The team behind spatial analytics company Spatio Metrics wants to help with that design planning, but their approach isn’t so much how or where the doors are built, it’s what’s going on behind them.

 

“A lot of people are really focused on physical safety, but there's so much psychological and emotional safety baked into it,” said Sonal Singh, co-founder and CEO. “That's what we're trying to capture holistically in our analyses. We're not just focused on one aspect of safety.”

Spatio Metrics was co-founded in 2019 by Singh, MBA ’19, and Jim Peraino, SM ’20, after the two met during the MIT DesignX accelerator and realized a shared frustration around the data gap between design and health.

Peraino came to MIT after working for several years as an architect for the non-profit MASS Design Group, where he focused on designing hospitals to help doctors deliver high-quality care. Singh had worked on product development and innovation in the payments industry.

During the DesignX accelerator, the two focused in on the data gap — there is a lot of research out there on how physical environments can impact our health and productivity, but administrators don’t know if that research is actually being applied in best practices for their hospitals.

“We started Spatio with the belief that if we could work with data to bridge the gap between design and outcomes, that we could fundamentally change the way that buildings are designed to improve our health,” Peraino said.

A before and after analysis

The Spatio Metrics software works by running 20 analyses of a hospital floor plan, and then generating 200 data points for every room on that plan.

The analyses capture qualitative aspects of the rooms’ layouts, Peraino explained; things like natural daylight and how visible patients are to a nurses’ station. The analyses also look at travel distances and infection control.

Interpreting, visualizing, and benchmarking data isn’t new, but Peraino said Spatio Metrics stands out for three reasons:

  • Most building information modeling captures information about the construction of walls. Spatio looks at the activities going on between them, such as how far a nurse has to walk during the course of a shift, or how much privacy a patient has in their room.

  • Spatio uses visualizations and high-level summaries that allow architects to trace how they’re improving the building throughout the design process. As a design progresses, they can show quantitatively how they are reducing travel distances or increasing access to natural daylight.
  • In addition to the architectural data that the company generates, Spatio Metrics can also take in outside data streams such as patient satisfaction data or health outcome data like patient mortality rates. This allows the company to understand the relationship between architecture and patient experience, or architecture and health outcomes.

“One of our favorite quotes from customers is that they have no idea what a building will operate like or look like until they spend the millions to build it,” Singh said. “This is getting in front of that and giving them those insights up front.”

Spatio Metrics has had five pilot projects since its start, working as either an independent party or through an architect. One of those pilots involved helping a Boston health care site analyze the design of their new inpatient building.

The software was able to show how the health care site could increase direct supervision of rooms by 30%, and decrease nurse travel by 27%. It also showed how a proposed decentralized nursing station might allow the administrators to adjust their staffing model.

“The architect was able to quantify their expertise and their knowledge, and it gave them a ton of credibility to validate their evidence-based approach,” Singh said.

Preparing for a post-quarantine world

Like every company weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, Singh and Peraino are looking at new solutions in this new normal, and helping others to do the same.

Spatio released an open-source spatial analytics tool to help organizations develop social distancing plans. The team has already helped one company with more than 12,000 employees evaluate its workspace for the first round of reopening, as well as how to encourage encouraging healthy behaviors like hand washing and sanitation.

Peraino said the company’s COVID offering analyzes floorplans to find areas where social distancing would be difficult or impossible — like narrow pathways or desks that are too close. Spatio Metrics is taking sensor data to simulate how people move through an office to identify desks that are more or less exposed to the travel areas.

“It’s not just about the 6-foot bubbles,” Singh said. “In terms of what's next, we really feel strongly about playing our part in the wake of COVID-19. We’re going to focus on making sure our COVID analytics toolkit really does help facilities leaders and global business leaders prepare their offices for a post-quarantine world.”