A Look Into Designing The Smart Hospitals Of Tomorrow

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Naturally, hospitals today are seeking a reliable way to improve productivity, efficiency and patient care without ballooning costs. That last part is the key since companies in the medical and healthcare industry tend to incur substantial financial burdens when changing anything. Enter smart hospitals.

Part of this is because of how the industry and various processes are structured, but it also has to do with how connected all the existing systems and tools are. For example, you can’t just take a patient’s health care record, convert it to an entirely digital format, and hope that all facilities, teams, and hospitals will be able to benefit from such a change.

Beyond that, there are also regulation and privacy concerns from upgrading patient records to digital form. There’s a lot that goes into not just designing a hospital, but also ensuring smooth operations across the board.

Still, with the millennial generation all grown up and customer expectations that are rapidly changing, the healthcare industry can’t just ignore the growing need for industrywide digitization. It’s also hard not to consider the many technologies making an impact today, like AI and machine learning, big data and advanced robotics. Even the FDA has recognized this and is working directly with hospitals to modernize data collection and the many devices that make it possible.

The next step is clearly toward smarter, more connected technologies that can help provide an efficiency boost to all aspects of the industry, leading to smart hospitals. A report from MarketResearch shows this is on the horizon, as the Internet of Things (IoT) market is slated to reach $117 billion by 2020.

IoT is just one form of technology that will comprise the smart hospital of tomorrow, however. There are also solutions like big data and analytics, AI and machine learning, or even automation through intelligent software and advanced robotics.

How do we get there? What kind of technologies and systems will be necessary for such a facility?

How Does a Smart Hospital Work?

With any hospital, three primary functions make up its general operations.

The first is, of course, internal operations or staffing, which involves all the intricacies of keeping the hospital up and running. This can be anything from making sure maintenance staff have the proper tools and equipment to scheduling the right number of doctors and nurses.

The second is clinical tasks or processes, which includes emergency health operations and activities. It relates to the need for medical services, in the moment, as more of a life-or-death situation. This can also apply to scheduled surgeries or operations that exist outside the realm of standard patient care.

Finally, we have patient services, which include everything from admissions processing and standard patient care to data and health records.

The distinction among them is crucial to make because smart technologies can be used as a solution in any one of these areas. There are already smart solutions in place in many hospitals across the country. What makes a hospital truly smart, in a forward-thinking way, is the implementation of modern solutions across all facets of operation.

Here’s a primary example: A patient arrives at the hospital and needs immediate assistance — their injuries could prove fatal if not treated appropriately. The minute they arrive at the hospital, their medical records are scanned and follow their every move. This is done via an IoT or connected sensor that is capable of reading their identity — maybe even through biometrics — and then houses that data during their visit. From that point forward, no matter what room they are in or what staff they are seeing, their data can be scanned and reviewed.

This may already be possible in existing hospitals across the country. In a smart hospital, however, it’s on a much grander scope. When the patient arrives, there would be no need for office staff to take their identity or search for previous health records, or even deal with the regular admissions processing you’d see with standard solutions. The patient is scanned in, the hospital infrastructure and network recognizes they are on the property, and any staff is informed.

With primary clinical tasks, speed and efficiency is vital and can sometimes be the difference between life and death — which is precisely what modern smart technologies can offer. In this way, a smart hospital works seamlessly — almost to the point of autonomy — to ensure all processes and operations run smoothly and without additional input.

In the example above, the scenario may even include an AI-powered system or machine learning diagnostics tool that can discern what injuries are present and recommend appropriate care.

Do These Technologies or Solutions Exist?

Many of these solutions exist already, so the technology is definitely in place to create the kind of smart hospital we’re conceptualizing. However, the infrastructure and systems to manage these platforms must be developed from the ground up, which could take time.

For instance, let’s consider a millennial patient’s experience in the hospital of tomorrow. It’s no secret that younger generations love technology and they value being able to stay connected and up-to-date with what’s happening.

From the moment they arrive on hospital property, they may have the ability to check-in via a mobile app. Perhaps real-time digital signage could be used to communicate more effectively. Throughout their entire visit, the focus is less about providing them preferential treatment and more about making sure they understand what’s happening. The digital signage could display accurate wait times to help with boredom or anxiety. The mobile app could send personalized alerts complete with time-saving tips and even distraction opportunities.

In this way, the technology is used to improve the overall user experience of that patient — be it millennial or not. It will provide a better experience for not only patients but also staff, management, and upper-level personnel, as well as general operations. That is at the core of the smart hospital of the future.

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About author
Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet and a contributor to sites such as KDNuggets, Simples Programmer, and Information Management.
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