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by Dr. Anees Fareed
Published on May 22, 2018

"What's a smart hospital? "I asked my wife, who is apparently oblivious to everything happening around healthcare industry. She did not know much about innovative and interactive smart technologies available for patient care, or the unlimited possibilities of big data in population health or the role of AI in future of healthcare, how does she decipher the word 'smart hospital', the answer was short and abrupt. "A smart hospital" she said, "in which, anything and everything is just a click away"

While I was lost in the thoughts on complexities of hospital workflow scenarios and was struggling to visualize how her 'one clicks of away' fantasy come true, she elaborated, "Once I check in to a hospital, the whole journey should be seamless with be it the long queues at multiple counters for various administrative purposes or clinical tests, all these should be just that click away. I would never ever be burdened with that hefty folder of tests and results, all information required for my treatment should be readily available to all care providers, and finally when I return back home I should have access to relevant information to continue my treatment and stay healthy, such a hospital "she exclaimed "would indeed be smart". And then it all started to make sense to me. What she meant was better patient experience, improved efficiency of patient services and care processes that ensures seamless patient flow and access to relevant information to both healthcare providers and patients.

Well, as of today that world is indeed just a tick away. In the era where adoption of smart technologies such as mobile applications, tablet PCs and wearables in healthcare seem to be the new norm and investments in digital infrastructure and connecting devices are on the surge this dream of a 'smart hospital' is no longer distant. However, every hospital aspiring to become a smart need to know how to plan well ahead and build strategy, carefully select and implement available smart technologies and transform healthcare delivery processes to meet key objectives of a smart hospital which are: ensuring seamless patient flow; improved clinical processes and ability; offering remote patient care; access to right information to right people at right time from anywhere; and enhanced patient safety.

Improving Patient Experience

Usage of smart technologies for a better patient journey experience begins well before the patient arrives the hospital by using smart mobile applications and patient portals allowing patients to provide and update required personal information, insurance details and relevant clinical history including lab reports and allergies. Patient will also be able to search for apt physicians, view their credentials, make bookings, receive reminders, cancel or reschedule appointments.

Smart parking apps will enable them to locate vacant parking space, the facility to book and pay would help patients escape the tedious task of finding vacant parking lots. Patient kiosks integrated with queue management system will enable patients to not just self-check-in with a smartcard and get token numbers but also receive location directions to departments or procedure rooms where they have appointments. Registration desk equipped with eSignature pads and payment machines would help them read and sign on required consent forms and would make advance payments for services indeed just a 'click away'. At the time of admission, the patients would be tagged with an electronic wristband that allows doctors and nurses to track their vital signs, medication times and sleep patterns remotely and receive alerts if anything goes abnormal to take necessary actions.

Patient rooms can be equipped with a large, flat screen monitor that will not only offer entertainment such as TV, video games, or internet, but also patient education content and instructions about their health condition or a pending procedure. They will also be able to access dietary services and order their meal and receive reminders about upcoming appointments. A smart digital screen in front of the room could display vital information about the patient including care provider name and allergies if any.

Improving Care Processes and Support Services

A well-integrated Electronic Medical Record (EMR) connected to medical devices, point of care devices and investigation equipment could automate documenting every clinical data including physiological parameters, investigation reports, images and videos and make it accessible through a single source. This will allow the care providers to access information relevant to patient care at the right time from anywhere in the hospital network.

Usage of RFID and Barcode assisted blood transfusion and drug administration, smart infusion pumps which can document infusion details and robotic drug dispensing machines and lab instruments are few other examples of smart technology applications that can not only improve patient safety but also enhance clinical processes efficiency.

Building a Smart Strategy

A well-thought smart hospital strategy should be directed towards building or transforming the hospital to a facility that will provide excellence in clinical outcome, efficiency in operations and enhancement of patient experience

Building a smart hospital strategy is more than just bringing together smart devices and applications connected to high speed networking infrastructure. The strategy should also aim to redefine the care processes, operational procedures and redesigning physical infrastructure to drive a new way of delivering care.

Smart hospitals require a complete revisit of how different patient services are offered within the hospital. For example, building patient rooms equipped with patient infotainment systems redefines how information related to patients' condition, procedure, medication and treatment are disseminated to them in addition to providing entertainment. Investing on Kiosks and patient portals redefine how patients are being registered, checked in and make payments which enhances operational efficiency and enhances patient experience

Patient care delivery processes are another area which needs to be re-designed to meet smart hospital requirements. Healthcare mobile applications, sensors and wearable monitoring and communication devices are transforming the way patients interact with providers. These smart applications and devices can shift some of the care processes beyond hospital settings either at satellite health centers or even at patient's home. While surgical robots improve the accuracy and efficiency of procedures, certain new treatment methods such as micro – surgeries are available now which cannot be done by clinicians. Multispecialty team based care model across hospitals are now easier with the ability to share and monitor patient information and stream images and videos.

A shift in logistics and support services workflow design to be considered with the availability of smart technologies such as RFID and secured wireless network which can be used to identify, track and report on locations and utilization of hospital resources. Robotics in pharmacies and laboratories which automates majority of the workflow processes requires redesigning of the processes as well as physical infrastructure. These technologies transform the way how logistics and support services are managed more efficient while minimizing waste and reducing cost.

Smart hospitals should give adequate focus on people management, training and adoption to take full leverage of digital capabilities and smart technologies. Leadership must think through how the smart hospital transformation will affect management systems, governance and technical competencies among its people. A solid governance model which facilitates collaboration between technical and clinical staff is required for successful implementation of smart technologies and achieving smart hospital vision.

It's not just the technology that build a smart hospital, it just demands us to get a bit smarter and do it right!

This thought leadership article was also published in Forbes Middle East.

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