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How the Internet of Things Can Boost Care Team Efficiencies

Published on 7/30/2018

It’s 2018, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is a fact of life. We – all of us, whether we know it consciously or not – deal with IoT daily. IoT, in a nutshell, deals with connected devices that provide the ability to communicate with systems that traditionally would have been off-limits. For most of us, the primary IoT device in our lives is a smartphone. When we think of today’s smartphone, we’re handling a device with sensors that can capture GPS location, understand when we’re driving versus walking and automatically adjust screen brightness levels – plus a whole lot more. What these sensors do (besides make our lives a little easier) is produce data – loads of it.

When it comes to the environment of the health care ecosystem, the same sensors apply to medical devices. Sensors monitor the functions of connected medical devices, such as insulin pumps, oxygen tanks and defibrillators, which are increasingly becoming Internet-capable or network-capable. Now, not only can we receive data from those devices, but we can also drive data to them from other connected devices – meaning we can bi-directionally interact with them. The power of system-to-system interaction means we can derive new insights and knowledge from the data. Imagine, for example, being able to action new intelligent alarms by correlating multiple data points across multiple real-time medical device sensors in combination to the person’s current and trended health history from the EHR.  It is these benefits that providers and patients expect to come to fruition through the digitalization of the health record, and IoT makes this possible.  


We’ve talked about the importance of connecting all producers of data in the health care environment to prevent new disparate data silos. Akin to the evolution from disparate departmental IT systems to more current EHR platforms the last 20 years, we often refer to this as device connectivity in health care or enabling the Internet of Medical Things. The data we get from device connectivity empowers us to draw new insights about the way we care for patients, including providing more accurate diagnoses and treatment plans, and how to improve workflow efficiencies. Across the industry, more and more organizations are realizing the benefits: The IoT sensors market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 26 percent during from 2016 to 2022, thanks in large part to the increased push for device connectivity in health care. The onus is now on health care leadership and IT system providers to understand where connectivity fits in the future of their organizations and how it can accelerate more innovative care delivery.


Gleaning data insights from connected devices


It’s not enough to simply empower device connectivity. For the health care organization’s IT infrastructure to truly be impacted, health care leadership needs to be asking: “How are we taking advantage of this new data and these connection points and using those connections to create new, contextually aware intelligence?” That could come in the form of retrospective analytics based off that data, predictive intelligence or point-of-delivery intelligence from those devices or optimizing the clinical workflow process. The point is that data is not the end of the road: It’s a bridge to the next iteration of health care.


Today, health care leadership is facing mounting reimbursement challenges and pressures from nearly every angle. Leadership is faced with optimizing for virtual health care delivery, driving better care team efficiency and achieving the quadruple aim – and often accomplishing all of that in an acute venue. Here’s where connected systems, connected devices and the data insights can help leadership identify where they can create better efficiencies with their organization.


IoT drives care team efficiency


One of the big areas of focus in care team efficiency right now is workforce optimization. That can be something as simple as making sure the right caregiver is operating at the top of their licensure or as detailed as understanding what the expected and predicted patient population will be on a given day.


IoT empowers leadership to look ahead and anticipate what their demand and supply needs will be based on historical data points, the weather and other factors. This includes determining what type of workforce is needed as well as how to ensure that workforce is trained and positioned effectively for when there are expected increased demands inside of the organization’s different service lines.


Workforce – particularly, having the right people – is a key area around care team efficiency. But beyond making sure there are have the right people in the right place at the right time for the person, health care leadership needs to make sure that once they are there in place, their workflow is as streamlined and efficient as possible. That's where device connectivity and communications technology can help.


There’s the potential for a hospitalized patient to know the location of members of their care team and, if they’re nearby, send an alert to them directly – something that’s made possible by each care team member carrying a mobile communication device and wearing a location-based sensor. This is an example of a real-time location system working in concert with an intelligent notification system, which empowers the organization to optimize the clinical workflow so that the right person on the care-team is getting notified of a patient’s condition and can engage. Not only does this improve workflow efficiencies by empowering care team-based concepts, it also enables clinicians to better navigate the care process, ultimately leading to a stronger and more thorough execution of the individual’s personal care plan. 


It's all those things coming together – the intelligent routing of the communications and notifications, coupled with knowing who and where the care team is while understanding supply and demand needs – that allows a health care organization to operate at its best. This also makes the patient experience better, putting the right care at the bedside in the most efficient manner.


IoT as a bridge to patient engagement


Each one of us is, at some point in our lives, a health care consumer – and as modern consumers, we want our health system to know us. We don’t want to fill out a clipboard multiple times. We want people who understand what our condition is – and IoT empowers health care providers to do this. Right now, it’s paramount for providers to create affinity with the consumer. There needs to be a certain amount of stickiness, especially as consumers increasingly expect personalized and fluid interactions. Health care providers should be treating this as a the new normal, and they should be looking to IoT and mobility to help create that stickiness and learn more about the people they aim to serve.


Through IoT, organizations are empowered to create unique experiences for the consumer. Whether the patient is engaging on their mobile device in their home through their favorite health app, using a wearable sensor or managing a chronic condition through remote patient monitoring, those points of connectivity are feeding data back to the patient’s care team and allowing them to better understand the person they’re treating.


The challenge for many organizations then becomes: How do we continue to treat these individuals as consumers, but understand the needs of them as patients? How can we create better care team efficiencies and automate the clinical environment?


Ultimately, IoT makes it possible for more information about the patient to be understood more completely, whether they are healthy and well or managing a condition. Here’s an example: If an oncology patient comes to check in for an appointment, the receptionist and clinic should know them and create a personalized experience like you experience at a high-end hotel experience. They’re likely receiving regular treatments multiple times a week. In a connected system, that patient would provide information via their device ahead of their visit, receive text update reminders and receive a personalized app experience to streamline their check-in process and visit along with a follow-up questionnaire on how they are feeling post-visit. That’s just one simple way technology like IoT can be leveraged to create a simple, cohesive, seamless experience for the consumer as they're coming in and out of the health ecosystem at such a critical time in their health journey and recovery.


At the end of the day, it takes a village inside the health care ecosystem to care for the patient. It's not just the physician or the nurse – it's also the front desk staff, registration, laboratory technician, the radiologist and the patient care technician. All these people have a vested interest in the patient, but sometimes they have a lack of patient information available at their fingertips or are rarely notified in real time.


IoT enables us to have more real-time information available about the person, which allows the caregiver to know more and treat in a more effective way, improving the patient’s outcome. Patients can have a better and more seamless experience with health care, because the care team will understand the individual’s status is and what the next step is in the care progression plan is. It’ll also be important for the consumer to better understand with whom and for what purpose they share their health information to gain these benefits, while having to protect their personal privacy and security.


IoT empowers predictive analytics


A lot of people are using the term “intelligence” in different ways. I’ve used it in this post, detailing connected devices. The important thing to remember is that, at the end of the day, intelligence – particularly when we’re leveraging intelligence for predictive analytics – comes down to not just how we draw the data, but also how we correlate the data in new ways to bring new insights.


We can look retrospectively at the analytics of the data we’ve aggregated after a care event, for example, and that can help us think about how we would change our processes and practices moving forward. It could also help us understand how we would train for prediction, because we must analyze the data and understand the trends before we start to predict what it will become. Predictive intelligence is taking those historical insights and mixing that data with real time insights and factors.


Through the tracking of patients, medical devices and other performance indicators across key service lines and departments of the facility, we can proactively orchestrate a more sophisticated and efficient flow for the person through their day, creating a better patient and family experience and ensuring more efficient operations for the health system.  Many provider organizations are doing this through the implementation of what is being coined in the industry as a “centralized logistic center,” which is designed to facilitate more strategic operations of the health system through data driven analytics insights, people and process improvements.


For example: Let’s say every Thursday of the third month, when the weather is hot outside, a hospital’s emergency department census goes up by five percent. To understand why that happens and the factors that dictate that, we need the retrospective analytics to design and create the prospective or predictive intelligence, which we can then infuse into our standard workflows and processes.


The possibilities for health care leadership to leverage IoT to the benefit of their organizations is endless – if only we can open our minds to the possibilities for device connectivity and predictive analytics.


At the end of the day, health care providers need platforms that can coordinate complex patient data sets that are coming from the EHR and the longitudinal care plan. This extends beyond the clinical data record and device data about the person that the consumer may submit. They need a health ecosystem that creates a broader information model that supports achieving these outcomes.


The potential for organizations to make positive changes about operations could have wide-ranging effects on not just operations, but patient outcomes – which is what we’re all here for in the first place.


At Cerner, we do more than simply connect devices to the EHR. Our CareAware solution removes data silos to create unparalleled connectivity, positioning health care organizations to succeed in an industry that is constantly evolving. Learn more about CareAware here.