Future of Smart Hospitals

Health care service must not only meet the highest quality and safety standards but also be affordable, convenient and flexible. Frost & Sullivan has identified important technologies and practices that can help address major challenges that hospitals face today and lay the foundation for a futuristic smart hospital.

The healthcare industry is in the midst of a sea change, and unfortunately not all aspects of change are positive. On the supply side, new, more innovative and more sophisticated medical devices entering are the market every day. Large medtech companies with ample financial backing and an established, global footprint are boldly innovating and willing to tread unexplored territories. Digital technologies have ushered in a new paradigm for patient data management, diagnoses and health care delivery. These positive changes, however, are offset by higher medical costs, outdated hospital infrastructure and limited penetration of health care services into developing countries. On the demand side, patients are becoming more aware about health issues and want better services. However, foremost among these changes—and in some ways, the underlying reason behind all other changes—is a trend known as health care consumerism.

Health care consumerism identifies the recipient of health services as a consumer rather than as a patient. Health care professionals and management consultants agree that the term “patient” connotes a sense of passivity, whereas the term “consumer” indicates a more active and demanding buyer. Patients receive medical attention, while consumers participate in the health care process. Buoyed partly by their experience as consumers in other markets—automobiles, retail and entertainment, for example—people today demand more from health care providers. Thus, a health care service must not only meet the highest quality and safety standards but also be affordable, convenient and flexible. In short, health care is evolving from a provider-centric to a consumer-centric model.

Smart Hospitals: A New Dimension in Health Care Delivery

Changing health care trends unleash a barrage of conflicting challenges at hospitals. Will quality be compromised while keeping an eye on patient costs? Can existing hospital infrastructure accommodate new consumer demands? Can data security be maintained while enabling dynamic health information exchange? In short, what is in store for the hospitals of the future? While there cannot be a single magic bullet (or pill) to answer all these questions, Frost & Sullivan has identified important technologies and practices that can help address major challenges that hospitals face today and lay the foundation for a futuristic smart hospital.

Digital is Not Smart

The first point to internalize: the popular notion that digital is smart is incorrect. Digitization should not be the end goal, but rather the first step toward a smart system. In this respect, hospitals have begun investing heavily in electronic medical records. While this concept is fairly popular in developed countries—with some even mandating them—smaller facilities and hospitals in emerging countries have yet to be digitized.

It becomes easier for a digitized hospital to then build on its database to design efficient health care delivery services. For example, digital records can easily be shared across geographies, enlisting specialists who otherwise would not easily be able to help. Similarly, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data analytics would be impossible if data are not captured and adequately digitized. As numerous industry experts and health care consultants, including Frost & Sullivan, have noted, the future of health care diagnoses will be built using AI, and for that a digitized health environment is essential.

Internet of Medical Things

Body-worn sensors and non-contact sensors in hospital rooms can capture patient health care parameters, thus digitizing health information at the source. Already, health care wearable devices such as those developed by Biovotion (Zurich, Switzerland), AliveCor (Mountain View, Calif.) and Vivonics (Bedford, Mass.) can capture vital signs around the clock. They collect a wealth of data that an advanced algorithm can pore over to glean health information, and free up hospital personnel from having to physically tend to patients for basic routines.

Frost & Sullivan has in the past profiled innovations in large-area sensors and image sensors that can be incorporated into hospital infrastructure to make the hospital a contact-free health monitoring environment. Simultaneously, imaging systems are also being endowed with communication capabilities so that medical images can be directly sent to a central imaging repository (a picture archiving and communication system, or PACS). The PACS allows for easier handling of medical images and makes them available to a physician on demand—and remotely.

The Rise of Robots

One of the complaints about a conventional hospital setup is the painfully long wait time. In emerging countries, and in rural locales, the wait time for even a basic checkup or a follow-up could be hours. The loss of productivity, patient and physician frustration, and operational chaos in the hospital during this time can all be alleviated using robotic telepresence systems. Companies such as InTouch Health (Goleta, Calif.) have developed telepresence robots: multi-functional, portable and audiovisual-abled robotic systems that connect patients and physicians virtually. A physician need not be present in a hospital or clinical setting for periodic checkups; similarly, patients can videoconference physicians at predetermined times. This will help improve hospital efficiency.

As early as 2015, surgeons affiliated with Florida Hospital Nicholson Center (Celebration, Fla.) used a surgical robot system to simulate telesurgeries. The team successfully performed surgeries on a simulator that was located in Texas—more than 1,200 miles away. A surgical team at St Joseph’s Hospital Hamilton in Hamilton, Ontario, has a better story to tell: it has operated on actual patients located hundreds of miles away, performing biopsies and minor surgical procedures through remote control of surgical robots.

While hurdles in the wide-scale adoption of telesurgery had been attributed to technical uncertainties that could affect real-time control and patient safety, these pilot studies have shown that the biggest hurdle today is psychological.

The Road Ahead

Hospitals have long been reluctant to adopt emerging technologies and practices, primarily due to the high investments involved. However, with the cost of technology falling sharply, and in the light of fast-developing use cases that constantly reiterate the importance of digital connectivity, hospitals will be forced to embrace new technologies. Besides helping patients, these changes will benefit the hospitals themselves by digitizing asset tracking, personnel management and scheduling for better operational efficiency.

In the distant future, patients may well end up not going to hospitals, instead having all services performed from a distance. That could be the future of hospitals!

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