Introducing the born-digital hospital

Doctor Using Cell Phone in Hallway

Digital technology is now profoundly changing the experiences of hospital patients and those who care for them.

Like many other sectors, the healthcare industry has seen great leaps forward in the use of technology. We learn daily of new ways remote consultation and diagnosis, improved analytical tools and even 3D printing of body parts and prostheses are transforming medical science.

Until recently, however, there was very little impact on the day to day life of a hospital. Many of the processes and protocols are still performed in the same ways they were decades ago.

But that is about to change dramatically.

Relatively suddenly, it has become possible to work in much smarter ways toward better patient outcomes – along with greater productivity and safety for medical staff.

Having had the privilege to work on the creation of a “born digital” hospital over the past year or more, I’ve been thinking about the very specific ways in which digital technology is changing the lives of hospital staff and their patients.

Dramatically enhanced communications

Thirty years ago, pagers were a “great leap forward” in hospital communications – quieter and more targeted than the tannoy systems that were the “great leap forward” 30 years prior to that. And perhaps some time in the last decade, you entered a hospital and saw a sign asking you to turn your mobile phone off, so it wouldn’t interfere with medical equipment.

That’s all changed now. Wireless phones and smart devices are foundational to the communications systems at the hospital we worked on. Every operational member of staff – from surgeons to orderlies – has one, connecting them with different systems and teams – and even the patients they are focussed on caring for. The smart devices can also enable 24/7 real-time access to patient information, from recent measurement of vital signs to graphical test results.

At the digital heart are smart systems for better management of both patients and the hospital’s facilities. What really makes the difference, though, is the ability of smart devices to provide on-the-spot access to these systems and also directly with patients (not just in the security office or at a nurse station desktop), plus links to all the necessary players.

Mobile digital communications have become an essential component of multi-disciplinary team response and escalation – and not just in an emergency situation, but for all aspects of productive and efficient patient care.

This approach truly expands the potential reach and value of automated systems and “things.” One example is when a connected staff member places an order on the pharmacy. The pharmacy robot then dispenses and despatches the drugs via the pneumatic tube system, and the nurse receives an alert on its arrival at the designated location on the ward.

Resilience for life-critical systems

Many hospital systems are life critical. A serious consideration in designing technology for the born-digital hospital is the need for resilience. More technology means less fall-backs, so that technology has to work. (In this respect, hospitals are no different from other born-digital businesses; if the commercial paradigm depends on “always on,” technology failure can spell disaster.)

Failure of essential power has now been significantly mitigated – hospitals have the benefit of multiple back-up power supplies, just like the best data centres that house born-digital businesses — but how resilient are other aspects of a hospital’s technology?

For example, the hospital we’ve helped set up is effectively operating an Intranet of Things – drug/blood fridges, patient monitoring devices, AGVs and more – so communications failure is simply not an option.

We placed significant focus on identifying failure modes and implementing suitable mitigations to cater for single points of failure, as well as many multiple points of failure. A combination of equipment, application and system redundancy — coupled with load balancing, fault tolerance and HA configurations – enables critical hospital technologies to remain nearly “always on.” Business continuity management, including procedures and training, complete this technology-led resilience to ensure the safety of patients, staff and visitors is uncompromised.

Systems security

Today, systems security is also critical to maintaining availability and preventing non-physical access to data. This was no easy consideration, given that a hospital’s applications need to be open to authorised personnel, who will be bringing their own devices to connect now and in the future.

Along with the privacy of sensitive personal records, patient safety has long been a core requirement of hospital systems, whether those systems are manual or digital. Ensuring the right drugs are given to the right patient in the right quantity is just one of the fundamental but numerous checkpoints performed every day.

In the born-digital maternity ward, for instance, electronic bands for mothers and babies alert staff immediately if they are separated and notify staff of any tampering attempts. Similar digital tracking helps locate wandering dementia patients, often at the other end of the lifespan.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of new technology is the better protection of hospital staff. Unfortunately, the number of assaults on staff is escalating, especially in emergency departments. These technologies can alert, in near real-time, the right set of respondents. Whether the notification is from a fixed or mobile trigger, it communicates the nature and location of the incident for a fast response.

A foundation for the future

I believe that the digital transformation of the daily lives of hospital staff and patients is only just beginning. Smart communications tools and highly available systems provide a solid foundation for that future.

By the future, I mean the development and adoption of smarter hospital systems that will further revolutionise the way hospital staff interacts and provides enhanced patient outcomes. This could even extend to other healthcare services beyond the hospital campus. Digital technology will transform the way hospitals interact with emergency services and allied health services, to patients’ general physicians, off-campus specialist services and even outpatients!

Certainly, now that notable Australian hospitals in several states have taken the leap, the possibilities and opportunities for better care, safer staff and greater efficiencies are closer than before.


 

 George Ware is a Senior Consultant with DXC. During his 25 years’ experience in Australian IT industry, he has delivered technology-based services and projects to customers across health, manufacturing, retail, mining, engineering and construction sectors.

RELATED LINKS

Healthcare industry still concerned about medical device hacking

The connected healthcare ecosystem: Integrating medicine, data and IT

Constructing a continuum of trust in healthcare IT

 

Comments

  1. I really like this blog, this shows how technology is moving fast and now the digital hospitals. Thanks for such an interesting blog. Keep sharing such more blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

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