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Smart medicine: Smart buildings driving smart healthcare outcomes

The term “smart building” is nothing new, but connectivity enabled by the internet of things is introducing opportunities for organizations to put their buildings to work to realize industry-specific outcomes and benefits, as we’ve previously examined. And, the good news is it’s not just a hypothetical technological aspiration. Real-world scenarios are already playing out across industries, demonstrating how smart, connected buildings can enhance occupant experiences when the right building blocks are in place.

Among the industries where this is most apparent is healthcare, thanks in part to technology advancements, along with broader industry and regulatory drivers. The shift to value-based care, where funding is directly tied to satisfaction and outcomes, is a marked change from the previous volume-based model. Now, with funding tied to satisfaction and overall outcomes, organizations have more incentive to improve the patient experience, and building environments are becoming prime-time players in this overall equation.

‘Building’ opportunities

This regulatory-driven shift to value-based care means hospitals are re-examining how to maximize patient comfort, minimize wasted time and provide patients with as much control over their hospital stay as possible. And that’s opened up new opportunities for buildings to help.

In order to take advantage of these opportunities, addressing aging infrastructure — long among a hospital system’s biggest challenges — has become a top priority. This is because hospitals are not only complex systems, often comprised of many buildings spread across vast geographical footprints, but also because of the potential impact infrastructure can have on patient comfort and satisfaction. Couple these two major factors and you have a situation ripe for tapping building and IoT connectivity to positively impact how hospitals operate and the experiences they offer for those who visit them.

As regulatory pressures accelerate the application of IoT connectivity in the healthcare sector, key technology building blocks are required to make it a reality. Technology applications, which range from behind-the-scenes processes to patient-facing scenarios, can help streamline staff workflow, drive cost savings and improve comfort, among other things — all ultimately helping make buildings critical contributors to a hospital’s success.

Technology prescription

Let’s examine what these different IoT components entail, and how hospitals can reap their combined benefits.

Integrated, standardized technology backbone: The dizzying complexity of hospital networks — both in terms of the number of buildings that comprise them, as well as the types of services and systems they include — requires a simple, standardized technology approach. Starting with an integrated building management system as the backbone, a hospital can gain a bird’s-eye view into system performance to help maintain optimal environments. The optimal system effectively uses the connectivity of today’s buildings, providing a clear way for facility managers to turn building data into actionable insights. For example, facility managers can layer on applications such as preventative analytics or deliver energy-efficient outcomes in real time — from turning down the air conditioning in an unoccupied room, to monitoring the refrigerated temperature of oncology drugs. And, with a standardized approach in place, the system can communicate with standard protocols and integrate additional technologies — including those across multiple facilities — so hospitals can evolve as needed without having to replace existing systems.

Cloud-connected service to optimize maintenance and operations: Taking advantage of IoT connectivity is only possible when a hospital is equipped to capture and analyze the tremendous amount of data generated by today’s building technologies. Cloud-connected applications, including new service and maintenance efforts, are enabling hospitals to take advantage of the different sensors and endpoints in a building. This can lead to many benefits and improvements, including providing more detailed, real-time insights into how a piece of equipment is operating so a hospital can address issues faster to save money. Or, it could entail forging a tighter link with patients and staff so hospitals can quickly remedy any comfort-related issues. The benefits are endless, but for a hospital’s service and maintenance personnel, taking this type of service approach can mean spending less time manually checking building equipment — an often daunting task for large, complex hospitals. Instead, personnel can focus maintenance activities where they can have the most impact.

Occupant satisfaction and staff productivity-boosting applications: IoT connectivity means not only connected buildings and equipment, but also connected people. In particular, mobile applications that connect people with their surroundings are helping bring IoT concepts to life in hospitals, providing patients with more control to directly improve their comfort and satisfaction with the swipe of a screen. For example, these applications can use building connectivity to provide clearer, customized directions for moving about a hospital. Navigating the dizzying maze of a hospital has long been a source of angst among patients and their loved ones, and a pain point for hospitals when it comes to patient satisfaction. These types of applications can help patients and visitors easily map their way around a hospital on their mobile device, for example, getting people where they need to go in a simpler and more easy-to-understand manner, and saving everyone’s time in the process. And, beyond directional assistance, mobile applications can also enable patients and visitors to take control of their surroundings — ranging from a patient’s TV and room temperature to food selection and window blinds — ultimately bringing the comforts of home to the hospital.

In addition, applications can help boost staff productivity. Nurses, for example — who play a critical role in patient care and directly impact the patient experience — today spend an inordinate time looking for assets critical to performing their jobs, like IV poles or thermometers, and tracking applications can help speed the location process while optimizing hospital workflows and boosting productivity along the way. Real-time asset tracking applications can also track where people are for maximum staff efficiency.

Model patient

Healthcare is similar to other industries in that the end users served — whether it’s a patient, a retail shopper or an airport traveler — have evolving expectations for experiences within a building, largely shaped by our increasingly connected world. As hospitals continue to get smarter and more connected, they’ll continue to use more data and insights that can make an impact on daily operations and improve patient care and comfort — and serve as a compelling example for what’s possible thanks to IoT.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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