Smart homes, smart cities – myriad different settings are promising extraordinary transformations powered by the digitisation, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), and hospitals are no different. But what will truly smart hospitals look like? And just how close are they to reality?
There is no single definition of a smart hospital. McKinsey & Company’s report, ‘Finding the future of care provision: The role of smart hospitals’ provides a useful overview of the multiple different technological innovations which are coming together to transform hospitals and healthcare delivery. These include: artificial intelligence (AI); robotics; telemedicine; augmented and virtual reality; genomics, precision medicine and even 3D printing.
In other words, this vision of the smart hospital is not one in which a single emerging technology is responsible for powering the transition. Rather, the smart hospital is one in which multiple types of digital transformation are fuelling a more efficient, informed and innovative approach to healthcare delivery.
Nevertheless, most of these digital transformations do have something in common – they centre around transformed approaches to healthcare data. AI might, for example, be deployed to analyse vast swathes of healthcare information, determining new possibilities for diagnosis and treatment. Telemedicine is focused on collecting and transmitting healthcare information remotely, enabling clinicians to diagnose problems, monitor symptoms and communicate interventions when their patients are not sitting in the same room. Technologies such as robotics and precision medicine both depend on rich data insights for their development and operate as data gatherers in themselves.
Even away from the medical frontline, many smart hospital technologies focus on using data analytics to, for example, manage their buildings and physical assets more efficiently. Predictive analytics can be hugely impactful when dealing with high-value medical hardware, ensuring that problems are identified and alleviated before they escalate, and extending the useful life of valuable equipment.
Another key overarching element of the smart hospital is the way in which these emerging technologies work together to share data and insights. In other words, a smart hospital is an integrated hospital, where myriad complex systems work together harmoniously, and helping each other to be smarter. Siemens’ white paper ‘A smart hospital concept’ describes how such systems integration ‘begins at the room level where different systems like lighting, climate control, and shading are combined in one infrastructure (total room automation)’.
That is, a smart hospital begins with many of the same characteristics as any other smart building. However, once medical systems and data are brought into the mix, the possibilities for integration – and the complexity of delivering such integration – become much greater. Hub and spoke models, where one central facility branches off into smaller, highly specialised satellite operations are proving a particularly suitable infrastructure model for many smart hospitals.
Clearly 2020 and beyond have thrown the healthcare sector into sharper focus than ever before. It has never been more important for the global medical industry to be able to deliver efficient, safe and intelligent hospitals, which are quickly able to analyse information and put new insights into practice. The opportunities for operational efficiencies and improved patient outcomes are enormous. The age of the smart hospital is nearly upon us.