Health and well-being are something that matters to all of us – from eating right and getting exercise to treating our health conditions. The best care is more than just visiting a good hospital. In the age of the iPhone, there’s an entire universe of data, software and hardware that accommodate our health needs. Let’s dive into the world of healthcare and discover what valuable new role the hospital has to play in this age of data and IoT devices.
How time slows down in hospitals
Whether you’re a doctor or a patient, you need to rely on a system where there’s no confusion or time to waste. Yet, that’s hardly the case with most hospitals. The usual scenario goes like this: instead of actually attending to the patient in need, the hospital staff often gets stuck manually gathering patient information or trying to locate the medical equipment needed for an intervention. Meanwhile, the patient is waiting, confused and frustrated.
Here is a broad picture on how time gets wasted in hospitals:
- On average, people spend 121 minutes for every doctor’s visit. People waste 64 minutes of that time waiting for care or filling out forms (Harvard Medical School study);
- At least 1 in 3 nurses spends an hour or more per shift searching for medical equipment, which rounds up to every nurse wasting 40 hours per month just searching;
- In 16% of the cases, nurses give up the search after failing to find the medical asset they need (NursingTimes.net survey).
The time invested in manually gathering medical information or searching for equipment is actually the time that should be dedicated to patient care. This might be why patients sometimes wait in the emergency room even up to four hours. It’s an unfair experience and, in some cases, all that lost time becomes life-threatening.
How IoT saves hospitals time and money
Hospitals need to give more consideration to eliminating redundant routines that take time away from caring for patients. Because fixing this major pain inherently solves a lot of interdependent problems, from improving the patient’s experience to streamlining hospital flows and cutting down the overhead. Fortunately, emerging technologies like the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence come with brilliant solutions for solving this expensive equation of lost time.
Just to give you one example, IoT can help hospitals track and manage medical assets without effort. The analytics component of IoT solutions enables the hospital staff better manage and streamline medical information and utilization of equipment. They no longer need to manually search for assets or gather patient information. With indoor location tracking platforms, they have instant access to corroborated data, which gives them time to focus on what truly matters – delivering patient care.
Improving hospital efficiency through indoor location tracking
First, let’s look at how IoT solutions actually work in hospitals. You can read on the abundance of IoT solutions for the healthcare sector in this article. For now we’ll just focus on an innovative solution that simplifies hospital flows and ultimately helps the medical staff be more efficient in delivering patient care.
- The Intelligent Locations platform runs on BLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy) sensors and RSSI;
- The BLE sensors (beacons) are attached to any medical equipment that needs to be monitored. It can be anything from ultrasound, X -ray and MRI machines to PET scanners, infusion pumps and even hospital beds;
- When the beacons are turned on from the central console, they “tell” the gateways (receivers) installed in the hospital’s IT infrastructure about the whereabouts of each piece of monitored equipment; the beacons send data to the gateways via Bluetooth;
- The location of the medical equipment is computed based on the RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) received by the gateways from each beacon;
- The gateways then use the hospital’s Wi-Fi connection to send all this corroborated data to the cloud storage;
- The medical staff has instant access to the equipment data via a user-friendly web and mobile interface. It’s where they can see in real-time what medical assets are available and they can also locate them through map-based navigation.
This intelligent platform has already been implemented in several hospitals in Chicago. But its flexible, open framework allows any hospital to quickly integrate and customize it in its flows. Since the platform automatically collects and updates valuable information on medical resources, many otherwise time-consuming operational processes are eliminated:
- Real-time inventory information and tracking of assets in specific areas or across the whole hospital;
- Real-time location and status updates (in use / not in use) for assets;
- Real-time information that allows the staff to find assets in drawers and cabinets;
- Real-time information on total hours of operations per asset;
- Usage alerts that improve maintenance scheduling;
- Information related to asset rotation and sterilization compliance;
- Maintenance records, helping hospitals avoid regulation fines.
Imagine the time and effort required for gathering all this information in the absence of an IoT solution. With instant access to this wide set of analytics, hospital administration can rightsize and avoid underutilization of medical equipment, which is another major pain in health systems. The latest statistics show that every year hospitals in the US misplace equipment worth more than 20% of their yearly budget. With only 10-15% of hospitals using IoT solutions for equipment tracking, the utilization rate of medical assets falls at less than 50%, which is well below the industry accepted use rate of 70 – 80%.
It’s clear that, without an accurate, digital inventory of medical assets, hospitals will keep investing uselessly in expensive equipment that eventually ends up underutilized or missing. Case in point, the University Medical Center (UMC) in New Orleans. Because the staf never tagged or recorded medical assets, the hospital lost $15 million-plus worth of equipment.
Other than asset tracking, the Intelligent Locations platform also addresses an important emotional component – the patient’s family. When one of your close ones is hospitalized, you need all the reassurance you can get that they are well taken care of. Reassurance feeds on accurate information.
By monitoring patients, the platform aims at keeping families up-to-date with any change in the patient’s medical status. It’s not so much about location changes per se, it’s more about the patient overcoming milestones during admission. To put it simply, patients wear sensor bracelets that inform the platform whenever there’s a big change in their medical status. The platform then notifies the family on each milestone. For instance, if the patient is no longer in pre-op and is heading for surgery, the app will notify their family.
With technology already filling up our homes and personal lives, we would expect to see the same thing in hospitals too. Even though it’s not happening as fast as we need it to, Gartner reassures us that by the end of 2020, 40% of large health systems will shift from digital health pilot programs to full-scale rollouts, up from less than 5% in 2017. With a 35% growth across 3 years, we can at least say there’s hope on the horizon.