Digital Transformation in the Healthcare sector: “But we’ve always done it that way” – aka- how “tradition” can dumb-down smart
I had the recent misfortune, one Sunday afternoon, to visit a local hospital. My misfortune lay not in the reason for my visit, but in the frustration I experienced in trying to get in. Parking was tricky and time consuming, finding the correct entrance to the building was tricky and time consuming, queuing for a ticket was: you guessed it. After experiencing two queuing systems (not just one!) and by the time I realised I had skipped the hierarchy of the paper trails, I had lost 1 hour of my life which I will never get back!
To add insult to injury, I received a photo from a colleague taken at a different medical institution showing a room with its door flung wide and what appeared to be personal medical files piled up on plastic chairs for all to peruse if they had the time and inclination. Security, anyone? Privacy, anyone?
We talk about digitalisation and the challenges facing healthcare. We talk about the amazing technologies we have, to make our hospitals smart, but we don’t appear to be getting the basics right. To slip into medical vernacular, we’re treating the symptoms not the cause.
So, what do we do in a world where the population of over-60s is above 1 billion, where staff shortages are more prevalent than ever before, where the regulatory grip is tightening, where patient expectations are rising, and where chronic conditions are at their highest level ever?
We think differently!
We approach the challenges from different angles; we turn tradition on its head by doing three things: 1. We shift our mindset. 2. We design and build smarter. 3. We integrate components into an effective ecosystem.
Thinking smarter: just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it’s right
A mindset that is set squarely in traditional methods and technologies is perhaps the biggest block we face to creating sustainable, smart hospitals. Instead of laying out a standard blueprint for plans, we need to step back, look up, take a more holistic approach and not consider a hospital in isolation, but consider instead an overall ‘wellness village’. This village might have a nursery, student accommodation, a private hospital, a wellness hub, but moreover it has one goal: to increase the wellbeing of its population. The challenge should change from admitting more and faster, to enhancing the general health of the population.
When The Crystal, in London – renowned as being one of the world’s most sustainable buildings – was being constructed, plans required the electrical contractor to install metres and metres of cable. They also required the mechanical contractor to install even more metres of cable. Both sets of cables were intended to facilitate dozens of automated interactions, one of which was to activate windows and blinds to adjust automatically depending on ambient conditions and movement of the sun. Automatic blinds: a great idea, but under the original – or traditional – installation plan, the cables would have been on separate networks; they wouldn’t have communicated effectively enough to achieve their shared goal. And this is the reality we face day in and day out with buildings in the UK. Disjointed systems, that end up super expensive if and when someone tries to bring them together.
Introduce a mindset shift thus: why have cables at all? Why not one connected system instead of two? Why not use wi-fi? Contractors’ initial response: “but we’ve always done it this way”. Ensuing endless hours of discussions and negotiations, hitting a solid wall from the traditional Design & Build methodology and an archaic procurement mentality.
This is a great example of how a traditional approach will introduce inefficiencies.
Bringing all the smart kids together to provide a patient’s perfect journey
What happens once we’ve shifted our mindset? We need to start thinking of a different infrastructure with a completely different goal, then we must consider how to design and uild.
Designing and building a smart hospital has many more complexities than simply pulling together connected devices onto an effective networking framework. We must design with the user in mind: in this case, the patient. We must consider a patient-centric model instead of a traditional provider-centric model.
The very basis of the design must involve mapping the patient’s journey from arrival to post-treatment care. What is their pre-hospital experience: how do they arrive, what part of the day do they arrive, do they – or can they – book parking in advance? What about their arrival: is there vehicle recognition, do the staff know who they are, is there a suitable room, is there information about their treatment, how do health apps complement their treatment? What about checking out: is security aware (in cases like maternity wards), has healthcare been arranged, is there an aftercare plan, what are the opportunities for rehabilitation?
Once the patient’s entire journey has been analysed and understood, then we can talk about what technology is needed to make the perfect journey possible.
If we don’t do this then we slip back into tradition and finish up with the technological equivalent of trying to stick a plaster on a bleeding artery.Niko Kavakiotis – Head of Building Performance & Sustainability UK
Instead, we must build systems that can learn and adjust. We must build infrastructure that is flexible and scalable; that can easily accommodate expansion and future medical technologies.
This is where we bring all the smart kids together in one room. We believe we are one of the smartest, but not the only one; we aren’t specialists for all the journey’s components. This is where we bring together those third-party experts – software developers, and banks, and technical companies, and research and developers – who offer their skills and knowledge to make sure what we plan to do happens.
Then we need a strong digital platform.
Unleashing potential with digital integration
Digital integration = Interconnectivity. Which company is perfectly placed to deliver interconnectivity across every step of the patient’s journey? Siemens! Building technologies, mobility, infrastructure, security and cybersecurity, safety, traffic and signalling, software, energy – our technology, solutions and, most importantly, knowledge is across every aspect of people’s lives. We believe we have more touchpoints with different aspects of human life (both physical and virtual) than any other company in this world.
We even have an amazing platform to provide seamless integration. MindSphere is the ultimate platform for connectivity; connectivity of everything, with (almost) everything! It’s open API, simple, durable, secure, and flexible enough to connect the technologies needed for the patient’s journey, allowing 3rd party developers to create their own applications, giving the chance to the smart hospital to realise its ambition and release its potential.
Back to our patient’s journey – there are real, substantial benefits to unleashing a hospital’s potential. Here are the headlines:
Applying advanced building technologies can improve patient satisfaction. For example, a bedside tablet connected to the building management system gives the patient the ability to adjust temperature and lighting or call a nurse. Intelligent infrastructures allow patients more control over their environment. Studies show that this type of connectivity promotes quicker healing.
Data collected by devices and mobile phones can be used to track congestion and divert people. We can track shifts and monitor junior doctors’ hours to keep our future experts safe and well. What about preventing the spread of germs? We can do this using HVAC ventilation shafts to disinfect air before it’s distributed to different areas of the building with the help also of UV lights in a permanent setup for disinfection, eliminating healthcare-associate infections.
A digital, intelligent infrastructure allows hospital security to integrate systems to provide real-time data and alarms. Security can perform live monitoring of the critical parts of the hospital; if there is malicious intent to damage equipment they can simply turn off combined heat and power.
An ageing infrastructure brings danger of blackouts. A smart hospital with its own microgrid is more resilient in the face of increased energy costs and obsolete infrastructure that can fail at any time, its supply is more secure and, by using smart storage, can create revenue streams by selling energy back to the grid or other business entities.
Equipment & people tracking
Studies have shown that healthcare professionals spend an unnecessary amount of time tracking down assets such as wheelchairs, and even patients themselves. Using patient and asset real-time location systems improves the experience (for everyone!), improves productivity and cuts down on asset theft.
Data analytics can enable hospital managers to identify in which areas the flow of people can be optimised. Areas where utilisation is very low can be repurposed in order to create more value for every square metre in the building, providing more on a smaller footprint (with a better experience!).
In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be looking at algorithms that, using the data from our personal health devices will present risks and assumptions about our health that will allow us and our medical professionals to make decisions that will help us live longer.
The technology is here; why wait?
The time to bring in the ‘smarts’ is now! The technology to unleash every hospital’s potential and improve every patient’s journey already exists. Buildings can already act as members of staff with room conditions as part of the healing process. We just need to use it! Designing and building properly from the start is common sense. We need to say no to tradition; we need to stick to our technological guns and help our hospitals become smart and resilient in the face of a rapidly changing medical landscape.
We must consider a patient-centric model instead of a traditional provider- centric model