The business of healthcare is quite literally one of life and death. Yet, for a very long time throughout much of the world, the system of medical care has been fraught with inefficiencies and soaring costs.
The most recent data from World Health Organization (stemming from 117 countries) shows that an average of 9.3% of people in each country spend more than 10% of their entire household budget on healthcare—a level of spending that is likely to expose a household to financial hardship.
This status quo is certainly ripe for disruption.
Smart hospitals: Pioneers leading the way
Fortunately, healthcare’s next technological revolution—the exploitation of an unprecedented amount of data, combined with cloud computing services, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT)—is heralding a very different model of healthcare: A model that offers expert insights and analysis on a mass scale, at a relatively low cost.
Already, we are witnessing innovative healthcare leaders making strides in this direction. Singapore’s Woodlands Health Campus (WHC), a part of the National Healthcare Group (NHG), is one such pioneering effort that is embracing new technologies to deliver seamless, person-centric, outcomes-based care.
Designed to fully integrate a general hospital, a community hospital, a nursing home, as well as daycare facilities for seniors in a single development, WHC is conceived to incorporate SMART technology, automation, and IT innovations campus-wide. This includes the building design, hospital operations, care delivery, and patient experience. A plethora of services will go online, driving higher productivity and efficiency. Automation of manual work, such as filling in medical information or ordering medications, is also expected to allow healthcare professionals to focus on their core work, devoting more time to their clinical and direct patient-care roles. Technological tools such as data analytics and artificial intelligence will also augment patient care, maximising outcomes at each touch point.
Rethinking the way hospitals work
But what does all this really mean to the patient or healthcare team? Visualise this.
A patient, John, with a history of heart disease finds himself with an episode of abnormal chest pain and rushes to the hospital. The automated and streamlined admission process shaves precious hours and minutes of waiting time. At the point of admission, John is tagged with an electronic wristband that allows doctors and nurses to track his vital signs—heartbeat, medication times, sleep patterns, rehabilitation sessions, etc.—remotely throughout his stay in the hospital. The tracker also alerts healthcare professionals of any anomalies so that the necessary action can be taken.
John’s condition is stabilised and he is kept as an inpatient for further diagnostic tests and observation. It is past midnight. On a wall of beeping screens, the healthcare team monitors John and their other charges’ vital signs. They can also zoom in on any patient via a camera at the foot of each bed, which also gathers video data for analytics. Together, the various IoT-enabled devices allow emotion recognition (among other signals), which is integrated with the electronic medical record and shared with the nurses.
A cardiac technician notices a light flashing over John’s chart. His premature ventricular contractions are getting worse. He zooms the camera in on John and observes abnormal behavior, which prompts him to alert a nurse on the ground. The quick action halted John’s condition from deteriorating.
Example of an in-ward activity monitor
The next day, John finds that he is able to order meals, select entertainment options, and call for assistance via his digital bedside assistant. After further diagnostic tests, the healthcare team concludes that John can be discharged, but needs to be on regular medication and embark on an activity program as part of disease management. Based on John’s individual profile and preferences, the doctor discusses alternatives and sets up an individualised care plan and health goals with John. As part of his post-hospitalisation care plan, John will continue wearing the electronic wristband after discharge to allow the healthcare team to continue monitoring his vitals and activities, and to intervene when required.
With the ability to create closely monitored care plans, hospitals can free up hospital beds quicker—allowing patients to manage diseases from the comfort of their home—in order to provide those beds to new patients who need them. John is discharged via an automated process, which also allows him to order public transport, such as a taxi, or to connect to his family member for a ride home.
Back home, the electronic wristband reminds John to take his medicine and order refills. A week later, the system sends out an alert to the doctor that John is not following the prescription plan. The doctor sends out an invite for a follow-up video consultation to check the reasons for non-adherence. This nips the issue in the bud before it gets more severe.
All of John’s relevant data is also anonymised and made available to digital health networks for secondary scientific usage and clinic trials. This allows continuous learning from each individual case.
With the ability to create closely monitored care plans, hospitals can free up hospital beds quicker—allowing patients to manage diseases from the comfort of their home.
It’s about moving forward steadily in the digitisation journey
Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP said, “There’s nothing that can make a difference in the world more than improving the outcomes of health in society. And, therefore, we are totally dedicated to it.” Picturing what hospitals could be—how much more efficient, cost-effective, as well as patient- and outcome-centric they could become—it becomes clear why he said that.
The fact is that smart hospitals can be a reality. The question is: Has your healthcare organisation started and moved forward steadily in its digitisation journey?
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