Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 19, 2024

Smart Hospitals: The Future of Healthcare Facilities

Better living standards and medical care advancements are contributing to longer lifespans. While that's a good thing, it's also creating challenges. One UN report estimates there will be 1.6 billion people 65 and older by 2050.

The burden on intensive care tends to increase in an aging population, where people have smaller families and generally live longer lives. The concept of a smart hospital incorporating new technologies and processes to run more efficiently has become more than a marketing strategy. It has become part of a conversation on an increasingly pressing issue. But how do smart hospitals work?

The Smart Hospital Concept

The term "smart hospital" first appeared in the late 80s, but the concept gained attention in the last two decades. A fundamental principle of smart hospitals is to provide patients with a greater sense of agency through online portals, secure messaging, appointment scheduling, and easy access to test results. These hospitals also offer virtual consultations and digitized health records, leading to improved patient access and more efficient care.

Initially driven by administrative and asset management needs, smart hospitals now focus on decentralized, patient-focused healthcare using the latest technology for more efficiency and transparency. Innovative healthcare technologies include:

  • Analytics and data collection—Data helps with building and equipment maintenance, patient monitoring, and more efficient patient care.
  • Digital connectivity—Medical information from various care providers, specialty service centers, and patients is gathered, centralized, and available to ensure the best possible patient outcomes.
  • Automation—Automation of processes and procedures that can be automated, from processing prescriptions in the pharmacy to delivering medicine, food, and linens. That will free up staff to perform more complex cognitive tasks while focusing on patient care.
  • Patient-focused care—Updated information, electronic health records, telehealth services, automation, and transparency ensure better patient outcomes.

The Emerging Smart Hospital

Some institutions already use AI solutions for diagnostics, such as detecting sepsis and pathology imaging. In daily scenarios, there are several touchpoints between a patient and AI. For instance, AI can create personalized treatment plans and recommend medication and dosage.

Automation is a crucial feature of smart hospitals at various levels. Traditionally, smart hospitals support automation in administrative workflows to increase productivity, reduce errors, and address workforce shortages.

With the advancements in AI and robotics, automation is also emerging in core medical tasks such as diagnostic imaging, patient monitoring, precise surgical procedures, patient care, prevention, and rehabilitation. Achieving this level of automation requires significant breakthroughs in engineering, artificial intelligence, data and knowledge management, and analytics.

The concept of a smart hospital goes beyond just building infrastructure. It encompasses medical products and procedures, including 3D-printed tools and implants, new and bio-printed biomaterials, micro and nano-devices, and personalized drugs and therapies.

Exploring smart technologies extends to places outside the traditional health system. These include homes, workplaces, sports, recreational areas, and other care facilities.

Major hospitals have partnered with well-known tech firms or are investing substantially in AI and robotics. The Cleveland Clinic worked with IBM to create the Discovery Accelerator, and the Charité Hospital allocated 60 million euros to the TEF-Health project. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester provides recommendations to clinicians on support and care based on anonymized patient data.

Hospitals must be capable of handling and transmitting extensive data sets securely, which may necessitate investments in cybersecurity solutions, especially when dealing with big data projects. In connected, distributed settings, data security and privacy are essential considerations. Ultimately, the contemporary smart hospital aims to enhance patient experience, reduce workforce workload, and decrease costs and accidents.

The Benefits of Smart Hospitals

The evidence from evaluations of related technology clearly shows the benefits of technological interventions in providing valid, reliable, and accurate healthcare services. That includes screening, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up, and rehabilitation. The full and successful deployment of technology for the smart hospital of the future requires continuous advancement of current technology.

In addition, successful use of new technologies in healthcare requires regular assessment and updates to clinical protocols. That is important for evaluating the cost-effectiveness and social impact of technology use. It also helps provide feedback to update regulatory, legal, and insurance frameworks. It guides the appropriate design and implementation of training and change management for healthcare providers and patients.

Smart Hospitals Tear Down Walls

The smart hospital of today is a hospital without borders. While critical interventions still happen in the hospital, many can get medical attention via connected remote units like other hospitals, clinics, primary healthcare, ambulatory care settings, and social care.

Deployment of wearable sensors, advanced network infrastructures, and accessible eHealth services could help smart hospitals tear down walls. Healthcare will become much more accessible and comprehensive, bringing 'smartness' to the core of health service delivery itself.

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