The pandemic has uncovered and amplified the struggles the healthcare sector is facing. From huge doctor workloads to unsatisfied patients to unorganized facilities where employees waste hours searching for critical equipment. Another influential factor is the emergence of “informed patients” who refuse to receive care passively. They ask for more information and demand a say in their treatment choices. Many medical facilities have already turned to healthcare technology companies for a smart hospital makeover, which will help them cope with the pandemic and build their services around the patient. This article provides the market overview of smart hospital technology and highlights some aspects that you can consider before digging into implementation.
Smart hospitals use data and technology to improve their processes and patients’ well-being. They operate in a highly automated and optimized environment. Such medical facilities deploy connected devices, AI, and data analytics. Smart rooms will look differently in each hospital, but they all serve the same goals — improving patient experience, streamlining clinical workflows, and facilitating communication. Smart hospitals are inspired by the idea that patients are customers, and they expect medical facilities to cater to their needs.
As the term “customer” indicates an active and more demanding buyer, intelligent hospitals do their best to offer a unique experience instead of purely focusing on treatments. They even extend their services to patients’ caregivers. For instance, Stanford Hospital retains a health librarian who will help family members find resources to understand the particular diagnosis and prepare to support the patient at their home. Equipping a hospital with smart wards is pricy. The costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars per room. One listing even mentions a quarter of a million for just one ward.
It is important to mention that digitalization doesn’t make hospitals smart by default. Implementing digital systems, such as robotic process automation in healthcare, is a step towards becoming smart, but it is not the end goal in itself. For example, investing in EHR and abandoning paper-based records doesn’t make a hospital smart, but it is a step in the right direction. Digitalized systems will enable you to capture data. Then you can establish a data strategy and benefit from analytics in healthcare.
How do smart hospitals work?
Smart hospitals put data together through complex integrated systems. According to Siemens, “integration begins at the ward level where different systems like lighting, climate control, and shading are combined in one infrastructure (total room automation).” McKinsey views smart hospitals as patient-centric facilities connected to an ecosystem of other organizations and sharing data with them. In such an ecosystem, healthcare management programs are delivered at various locations, including gyms and patients’ homes. Hospitals primarily focus on complex procedures, such as surgeries and intensive care.
Technology-wise, smart hospitals use the Internet of Things (IoT) and employ a variety of other innovative technologies. This list includes:
The Norwegian startup Ably Medical provides an exciting example of a smart bed suitable for senior patients. Ably Bed has embedded sensors to measure patients’ vital signs, weight, and other parameters. It can notify doctors if a patient’s condition begins to deteriorate. The bed’s flexible frame presents another interesting feature. It can adjust automatically to prevent patients from falling or to turn them to alleviate pressure points on their bodies. Ably Bed supports nurses in moving patients around, which can cause injury. Watch this video to learn more about how this bed was designed and how it helps nurses.
For another inspiration, let’s take a look at the Sunway Medical Center, which won Frost & Sullivan‘s 2021 Malaysia Smart Hospital Company award. This smart center used its technology to adapt well to the pandemic and serve its patients in these difficult times. It has established a connected Telemedicine Command Center that allows remote consultations during the pandemic. Sunway also offers a connected contactless COVID-19 Testing Pod and a vaccination center.
Within its facilities, Sunway is experimenting with innovative technology as well. It has state-of-the-art equipment for radiation treatment for neurological conditions. Its hospital beds are equipped with sensors to monitor patients’ sleep and respiratory rates. On the entertainment side, patients can browse the meal and beverage menu on their smartphones, select options, and place orders in advance.
The global smart hospital market is valued at $29 billion in 2021, and it is expected to jump to $59 billion by 2026. Another research suggests that the smart hospital market will already cross the $63 billion mark by 2023. Either way, it’s a promising field, and there are many smart hospital solutions on the market. They can be classified in the following list:
Patient monitoring in smart hospitals
Intelligent hospitals use various patient monitoring solutions both inside the healthcare facility and at the patients’ homes. Here are some examples of smart hospital solutions falling under this category:
Studies show that nurses spend around 40 hours per month searching for lost equipment, and in 16% of the cases, they don’t find what they are looking for and give up. Smart hospitals can supply their equipment with Bluetooth-based iBeacons, RFID, or QR tags and display their real-time location on a dashboard. Such a system can even show which assets are disinfected and are ready to use and which ones are still in preparation mode.
Just recently, the OLVG hospital in the Netherlands teamed up with Philips and the Eindhoven University of Technology to experiment with locating mobile assets. They used location-aware tags and real-time big data analytics. The preliminary results showed that this type of solutions can be successfully used in hospital settings.
Sensors can also be used to locate medical personnel and even ensure that they are following the hospital’s hygiene protocol. For example, Hygenix, Inc employed ITRex to develop an IoT-powered solution, which monitors hospital staff’s hand hygiene practices. Thanks to this solution, the participating hospitals witnessed a 70% increase in hygiene compliance.
Smart hospitals use analytics to detect early signs of failing equipment. Some tools can even predict failure before it actually affects the performance of a device based on changes in its characteristics. Here are a few examples:
A hospital is a complex system, which involves people, equipment, infrastructure, and many different processes. Managing everything manually is an exhausting task. Smart hospitals employ digital solutions to streamline workflows and provide an overview of the facility. Here are some types of tools that help with hospital management:
Smart hospitals incorporate applications that help healthcare practitioners to diagnose diseases faster and with higher accuracy. Here are a few examples:
Intelligent hospitals are built around the patient and their needs. Such establishments not only focus on their customers’ health, but also want them to feel comfortable during their stay. One example of in-hospital entertainment comes from Cedars-Sinai and BayCare Health System. Both healthcare facilities deployed specialized Amazon Alexa devices, which allow patients to call their relatives and friends, access the TV and radio in hands-free mode, and reach out to their care providers with requests. Using this technology, hospital staff can also communicate with patients informing them about menu changes, games, and podcasts.
Smart healthcare centers employ digital way-finding techniques to help patients and visitors navigate these large establishments with ease. If visitors can’t find their way around the facility, they will be late for appointments and will arrive feeling stressed, which compromises customer experience. Additionally, they may contract infections when wandering into the wrong areas.
The UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital benefits from Pointr’s Deep Location technology to navigate its visitors inside and outside the facility. The solution helps customers find parking spaces, reach their appointment locations, and notify medical staff of their arrival.
Transforming your healthcare facility into an intelligent hospital is a complicated endeavor. In one hospital, smart rooms will look different, as they are designed with a specific patient population in mind. They will use a distinct set of technologies corresponding to the selected patient segment’s needs. Independently of your ward design and the targeted patient group, there are some steps that you can take at the very beginning of your project to increase your chance at success:
As a first step, it is paramount to understand the unique needs of your healthcare facility. It will be helpful to organize requirements elicitation sessions with different experts from your team, such as doctors, nurses, support staff, etc. You can use focus groups or individual interviews. This will help you uncover the pain points of your employees. For example, if you learn that doctors are wasting too much time locating their colleagues, then location tagging is a must for your intelligent hospital system.
Analyze your existing legacy systems to understand what can operate as a part of the smart hospital initiative, what needs to be modernized, and what needs to be replaced or is missing. Don’t limit your focus to digital applications. Evaluate your facility’s infrastructure, such as lighting and air conditioning systems, as they are also a part of the prospective smart hospital solution. You can conduct this evaluation together with your selected technology vendor so that they can document the gaps.
In the ideal smart hospital environment, all devices are expected to interconnect together. But in our reality, hospital smart devices are produced by different vendors and can’t be properly integrated. Keep this in mind when selecting your machines and applications. If you are beginning your digitalization path, you can choose one particular vendor and stick with them till the end. But if you already have solutions from distinct vendors in place and you want to build on top of that, then you can turn to a vendor-agnostic provider who will build custom solutions that fit your existing system and help connect your heterogenous devices.
If your facility doesn’t follow one of the widespread healthcare data interoperability standards, it would be worth investing in one. This will enable you to fit into the interconnected healthcare ecosystem described at the beginning of this article and to team up with other healthcare providers.
The more connected devices and systems you have, the more vulnerabilities it offers for malicious activities. According to HIPAA Journal, 82% of healthcare organizations have experienced an IoT-induced cyberattack in the past 18 months. You can emphasize the importance of cybersecurity by involving a cyber protection engineer when developing smart hospital use cases.
And here are a few simple steps that you can take to protect your intelligent hospital system:
With all their benefits, smart hospitals are a costly investment. However, considering where the healthcare field is headed, passing on smart technologies might cost you even more. Nowadays, patients expect healthcare providers to aggregate and access their data rapidly, whether in health records or medical imaging. They want assistance in hospital navigation, entertainment in their rooms, and fast response from medical staff. Likewise, doctors and nurses are tired of being overwhelmed with manual tasks. They are looking for technology-based assistance, which will be a factor when considering new employment opportunities.
If you are ready to incorporate sensors and connected devices into your environment, it is a good idea to start searching for a reliable IoT healthcare service provider to build your intelligent hospital system. Be sure that the selected vendor can also integrate your existing devices and applications or point you to a reasonable substitute. After all is done, your hospital will be ready to match and even exceed the expectations of both patients and staff members.
Do you want to transform your medical facility? Drop ITRex Group a line! Their healthcare experts will help you build and install IoT devices. They can also assist you with data analytics, intelligent automation, and AI-powered diagnostics solutions.