If the average healthcare facility were a human body, its doctor would be very concerned for its health. Healthcare facilities have access to a wealth of resources that are rarely efficiently deployed, resulting in poor organization and a multitude of redundant functions. Patients miss appointments or go to departments they shouldn’t be going to at all—for example, emergency rooms are often flooded with patients who have non-emergency conditions. Hospital employees make clerical errors, forcing documents to be manually recovered. Every one of these instances makes a healthcare center less efficient, more expensive to run, and less likely to reach its goals for patient health and satisfaction.
However, as new discoveries in medicine can regulate the function of a human body, innovations in technology can help make hospitals and clinics more efficient and effective. Powerful technologies like mobile communication and the Internet of Things (IoT) can create smart spaces that simplify clerical tasks and empower patients to make better use of available facilities. We are already finding ways to integrate technology into every other walk of life, from work to play, and our healthcare is no less important. By leveraging new ideas, along with these new technologies, we can improve care facilities and help patients get the best treatment possible.
It starts with building smart spaces: integrated, modern work spaces that bridge the physical and digital world with actionable intelligence designed to maximize resource efficiency while boosting team productivity and effectiveness.
Digital disruption is everywhere, including the workplace. Ubiquitous connectivity and the Internet of Things provide new options for collecting and using information about individuals, systems, applications, devices, and work spaces. Hospitals are a case in point: With nearly 8.5 billion mobile phones worldwide, patients, clinicians, and visitors may own four to seven devices each, and as many as 13 devices may be connected to a single hospital bed.
Healthcare facilities are also expensive to maintain, especially when patients miss appointments. No-shows cost the medical industry more than $150 billion a year, with estimates showing the impact on individual physicians can reach $150,000 annually. Meanwhile, patients would be surprised to learn an average of 289 people handle their hospital bills between visit and storage. That means each point of contact has the potential to introduce errors into the system.
All of these problems lead to a staggering amount of waste that could be avoided with the proper application of emerging technologies.
Smart spaces, digital collaboration
We live on the go, using mobile technology for everything from work to romance to answering random questions that occur mid-conversation. Healthcare is arguably more important than any of these mobile use cases, yet most medical providers limit their applications to replicating existing website functionality. That’s a great first step—making appointments, emailing doctors, ordering prescriptions, and paying bills are all powerful features to have on a mobile device. But it’s only the first step, as this smart, adaptable technology can do so much more than just let us carry the Internet in our pockets.
Mobile technology can empower users to live healthier lifestyles and make smarter use of available healthcare resources. While today’s healthcare apps require proactive use, where the patient initiates every interaction from appointments to prescriptions, tomorrow’s equivalent could do much of that work on its own. A well-designed system would automatically renew prescriptions and reference the user’s calendar to schedule the next convenient appointment in person, via video chat or even house calls by hologram. A patient could easily describe an ailment to an app and have it recommend the most helpful specialty clinic or facility, make an appointment immediately, or even schedule a walk-in appointment or a call with a doctor.
Care facilities can benefit from mobile tools and apps as well. Apps can track travel time from the patient’s home to the treatment facility, including traffic conditions, recommend a proper departure time, and even cancel or reschedule appointments automatically if the patient is running late. Or the app could simply ask the user if they will be able to make their appointment. If not, the app will simply plug the next available appointment into that time slot or free up the facility for other uses, saving time and money.
Mobile technology also goes hand-in-glove with cloud storage, allowing patients and hospitals to keep all medical records, forms, and bills in a single, easily referenced location once regulatory concerns are addressed. Patients can transfer their medical histories instantly from one care facility to another, eliminating the need for transfer fees and complex permissions. Instead of an overly busy system where paper forms can pass through hundreds of hands, digital technology makes it much easier to store, organize, edit, and reference any document, drastically decreasing overhead. At an industrial level, petabytes of digital imaging can be stored in an on-prem private cloud.
By putting all our devices and processes online, we come closer to the science-fiction ideal of the house that anticipates the needs of its occupants, the car that knows how its operator drives (or just drives itself), or the hospital where it’s impossible to get lost or go to the wrong department. This full-scale integration of IoT into the places where we live our lives creates smart spaces that allow easier and more efficient use.
A hospital or care facility that transforms itself into a smart space could connect to patients’ mobile devices to guide them to an available parking spot, through the building itself to the proper department, and even to the shortest reception line. The patient would receive their forms in advance, and have them autofilled, prepaid, and ready to go. They could just go past reception and straight to the waiting room or even straight to their prescheduled exam room. Smart wearables are already measuring things like heart rate and blood pressure. In the future, smart wearables could help slash pre-appointment busywork so patients can spend more time discussing their conditions with the nurse before meeting their doctor. If needed, the patient’s app would lead them to the nearest pharmacy where their prescription would be waiting for them.
The sky’s the limit
These are just a few of the ways in which emerging technologies can guide patients through care facilities to make sure they use the proper resources at a useful time, without draining precious resources by clogging up the emergency room. New ideas are constantly emerging to help us automate, streamline, and improve every aspect of our lives. As these innovations make us more and more interconnected, there’s no telling how easy and painless we can make the delivery of healthcare moving forward.
Integrating IoT with healthcare
The Internet of Things is the next big leap in connected living. IoT networks can improve the user experience for everything from making toast to checking in for open-heart surgery. Here are just a few ways healthcare providers can leverage the IoT to make their jobs easier and improve patient care:
- Asset tracking: Just as retailers use the IoT to track inventory, hospitals and pharmacies can use IoT applications to find out which items need to be reordered and where to find misplaced items like ventilator pumps or wheelchairs.
- Wayfinding: These applications can provide arrival time instructions and turn-by-turn directions that take into account the entrance or garage through which patients enter the facility. The same messaging and wayfinding features can be provided to visiting or temporary physicians and staff.
- Push notifications: This involves pushing a message to each patient, in their preferred language, about the time of their appointment and exact office number. Systems can also push updates about changes in the appointment location or time.
- Workflow optimization: By using wireless infrastructure and tag devices like wristbands and ID badges, care centers can track bottlenecks and service slowdowns to improve performance.
- Data analytics: Smart wearables can track huge volumes of biometric data that caregivers can use to find out more about both individual patients and populations. Insights from the data can enhance patient care and accelerate lifesaving research.