Adopting the IoT: How to improve patient care and optimise healthcare facility operation

Pradyumna Pandit, vice president and general manager at Schneider Electric, explores the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on healthcare and how it can help to enhance the patient experience while cutting costs

The Internet of Things offers a chance to make efficiencies within healthcare operations

As our world becomes increasingly connected, the Internet of Things (IoT) has made a significant impact on the healthcare industry.

Hospitals, outpatient clinics, assisted living centres and doctors’ offices exist to serve patients, and these facilities are increasingly using advanced technology to improve the care they provide as well as impact day-to-day operations.

The connection of ‘things’ to the internet is driving multiple trends and inspiring new workflows and practices within healthcare facilities, homes and beyond.

The connection of ‘things’ to the internet is driving multiple trends and inspiring new workflows and practices within healthcare facilities, homes and beyond

In addition, rising healthcare costs are motivating healthcare organisations to adopt every available means to reduce those costs.

Within healthcare, the IoT represents the frontier, the place where outer limits are being tested and tried in both facilities management and patient care.

IoT is also the future – the ultimate destination for an industry beset by aging facilities and rising operating costs.

But what is IoT and how has it already changed healthcare?

The IoT is the collection and exchange of data between inter-connected physical devices via internet protocol.

IoT devices allow users to connect, collect critical data, analyse and then react to data based on real-time information to enhance performance and prevent losses.

The ‘things’ that make up the IoT include any physical objects that collect and exchange data over the internet, most without any type of human input.

And, while IoT devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit have taken off on the consumer side; more recently the business side of healthcare has begun to explore how IoT can impact facility operations and deliver better patient care.

IoT growth is global and crosses multiple business sectors, but perhaps no sector is being impacted as quickly or as pervasively as healthcare.

Gartner forecasts that 20.8 billion connected things will be in use by 2020, while BI Intelligence predicts that by that same year the installed base of healthcare IoT devices (excluding wearables like fitness trackers) will reach 646 million.

That means that healthcare will account for 25% of the IoT market.

In addition, the IDC Spending Guide forecasts worldwide spending on IoT will grow to nearly $1.3trillion in 2019.

Emerging trends

Facility management and operation are now a focus for IoT-enabled improvement.

Healthcare leaders see the potential that IoT offers to improve operational efficiency, as well as safety and satisfaction for patients.

IoT is the future – the ultimate destination for an industry beset by aging facilities and rising operating costs

IT/OT convergence is a new layer of digital transformation happening inside businesses, including health facilities.

Information technology (IT) comprises the computer systems and networks that store, manage and harvest business data – essentially information-gathering software.

Operational technology (OT) is the hardware required to make the highest and best use of resources used to operate an organization, including staff, resources, equipment and facilities.

IT/OT convergence relies on the presence of a secure, open, scalable and flexible IoT platform, which bridges the IT/OT gap and connects three core layers – connected products, monitoring and control software and apps and analytics.

This platform should provide a digital healthcare infrastructure with embedded connectivity and intelligence; smart control, management, automation and optimisation; and cloud-based digital services.

This convergence will lead to greater utilisation and ROI of ‘connected’ infrastructure devices such as temperature sensors, power meters, circuit breaker panels, uninterruptible power supply devices, building automation controllers, real-time location system devices, and more.

These IoT-enabled devices provide embedded intelligence and control, can often be controlled and monitored via the cloud, and with the help of software can provide advanced analytics.

And data collected from connected devices is used to drive better decision making and process improvements.

In new healthcare facilities, IT/OT convergence will be built into design plans, allowing for optimal technology interoperability.

In aging facilities, a technology layer will update legacy infrastructure, making it future-ready.

This convergence will allow both sides to work together to produce a result that provides added value to the healthcare organisation as a whole.

Improving the patient experience

In health facilities, patient satisfaction is paramount and will only grow in importance as providers offer patients more choice.

Through IoT, there will be new opportunities to build patient loyalty, which ultimately leads to better patient outcomes – a main driver for hospitals around the world.

IoT puts a measure of control into the hands of patients through solutions such as mobile patient room control applications.

In new healthcare facilities, IT/OT convergence will be built into design plans, allowing for optimal technology interoperability

For example, by using an app installed on their smart phone, patients can create their own optimal healing environment through individual control over their room temperature, lighting and window blinds rather than calling on nurses to perform these basic tasks. In turn, this frees up nurses to spend more time on clinical tasks that will improve patient care.

Patient safety presents another top concern.

In healthcare facilities, uninterrupted access to power can mean the difference between life and death.

Hospitals and surgical centers need constant, reliable power to feed medical devices; and a one-day power loss can cost a hospital upwards of $1million.

IoT-enabled power management solutions such as electrical panels, connected power meters, and power monitoring software can ensure reliable electrical power to critical areas, identify potential issues before a failure occurs, reduce operating theater downtime, and automatically test emergency power supply systems.

Cutting costs without cutting service

Like so many other sectors, healthcare facilities face the need to do more with less.

Their operating costs continue to rise, while budgets decline.

And rising healthcare costs put added pressure on hospitals to reduce their expenses.

Energy efficiency is a hidden opportunity to help health facilities reduce operating costs and improve their financial health.

Aging facilities compound the problem of energy costs, as existing hospitals don’t have the luxury of ripping and replacing outdated infrastructure.

In the US most hospitals are more than 30 years old. In the UK, that age rises significantly.

And many aging facilities are not equipped with the right infrastructure to support energy and business efficiency.

However, IoT technology can help these facilities keep legacy systems while identifying new opportunities for cost reduction.

By using cloud-based, automated building analytics and diagnostics software, hospitals can benefit from predictive maintenance, identify savings opportunities, and prioritise those with the greatest impact for the least investment.

This type of software is so intelligent it can predict how much a health facility can save by implementing a specific energy conservation measure or performing maintenance on a particular asset.

According to Deloitte, a smart building can save upwards of $18m in operating expenses over a traditional, non IoT-enabled building.

Healthcare organisations need a single, future-ready building management system (BMS) solution that makes their facilities safe, comfortable and efficient.

This needs to be scalable, open, flexible and act as the IP backbone to connect energy, automation and software.

Acting as the hospital’s digital hub, an intelligent BMS links critical systems across the enterprise so data can be collected, analysed and managed to optimise operational performance while driving 30-40 percent more energy efficiency, as well as comfort and safety for all.

By using cloud-based, automated building analytics and diagnostics software, hospitals can benefit from predictive maintenance, identify savings opportunities, and prioritise those with the greatest impact for the least investment

An IoT-enabled BMS takes a hybrid approach and uses the cloud or is hosted on-premise.

In essence, the BMS uses IoT to network systems that may not have been connected before, like lighting, HVAC, security and access control, as well as connected devices such as valves, actuators, sensors and meters.

The competitive advantage

With aging infrastructure and growing populations, the world’s health facilities will strain under pressure. And i healthcare, traditional cost-cutting techniques – like reducing staff or services – simply do not work.

IoT makes cost cutting possible by making facility, asset and energy management easier.

Imagine a hospital that delivers better patient outcomes, improved asset use, reduced energy consumption, no operating room downtime, and information that can be used to stay ahead rather than simply keep up.

Representing both the frontier and the future of healthcare, these are the advantages that IoT brings to a health facility.

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