Integrated solutions – A path to enhancing hospital productivity and patient experience
‘Smart building’ is hardly a revolutionary term in this day and age, but the connectivity made possible through the Internet of Things (IoT) has provided new opportunities for businesses to put their buildings to work and reap the rewards. Thankfully, this is more than a far-fetched technological dream. Real-world scenarios are already playing out across industries, illustrating how smart, connected buildings can improve occupant experiences and raise productivity with the right building blocks in place.
One industry where this is most apparent is healthcare, in part due to technology advancements, as well as broader industry and regulatory drivers.
An example is the move towards value-based care, where funding is tied to satisfaction and outcomes - which is a notable change from the previous volume-based model. Now, hospitals have more incentive to improve patients’ experience, and the building environment has proven itself capable of making this a widespread reality.
Keeping Pace with Digital Change
This shift towards value-based care means hospitals are re-evaluating how to optimise patient comfort, cut down on wasted time and provide patients with as much control as possible during their stay. This has paved the way for healthcare to embrace the digital revolution.
In order to make the most of this opportunity, hospitals have recognised the importance of addressing aging infrastructure — an issue that is becoming harder and harder to turn a blind eye to. By updating existing framework, hospitals can leverage building and IoT connectivity for improved operations and experiences.
Utilising IoT Connectivity
Let’s examine what these different IoT components involve, and how hospitals can take advantage of all that’s on offer.
Firstly, an integrated, standardised technology backbone. The complexity of hospital networks — both in terms of the number of buildings and the types of services and systems included — requires a straightforward, standardised IT approach.
Starting with an integrated building management system as the foundation, a hospital can obtain an in-depth look into system performance to help maintain optimal environments. The optimum system uses the connectivity of today’s buildings, providing a clear solution for facility managers to turn building data into actionable insights.
For instance, facility managers can layer on applications such as preventative analytics - preventing downtime and consequently impact patient experience, or deliver energy-efficient outcomes in real time. This can range from lowering the air conditioning in an empty room, to monitoring the refrigerated temperature of oncology drugs.
Additionally, with a standardised approach in place, the system can communicate with standard protocols and integrate additional technologies — including those across multiple facilities. This allows hospitals to evolve without the costly process of replacing existing systems. Instead, they can make the transition over time aligned to budgets.
A further component is a cloud-connected service to optimise maintenance and operations. Hospitals can only take advantage of IoT connectivity when they are equipped to capture and analyse the sizable amount of data modern building technologies generate.
Cloud-connected applications, including new service and maintenance efforts, permit hospitals to utilise different sensors and endpoints in a building. This can offer a number of benefits, such as providing more detailed, real-time insights into how a piece of equipment is operating. Hospitals can address issues before problems worsen and save money as a result.
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Alternatively, it could involve forging a tighter bond with patients and staff so hospitals can quickly address any comfort-related requests. The benefits are endless, but for a hospital’s service and maintenance staff, taking this type of approach can lead to spending less time manually checking building equipment — often no quick task for large, complex hospitals. Rather, personnel can focus maintenance activities where they will make the most difference.
IoT connectivity is more than just connected buildings and equipment; it also means connected people. In particular, mobile applications that connect people with their surroundings are helping bring IoT concepts in hospitals to life. It affords patients more control to improve their comfort and satisfaction by swiping on their screen.
One way to put these applications to use is using building connectivity to provide clearer, customised directions for navigating through a complex hospital. Navigating around a hospital can sometimes be difficult for patients and their loved ones, and an obstacle to patient satisfaction.
These types of applications can help patients, visitors, even clinicians easily make their way around on their mobile phone saving everyone time in the process. Mobile applications can also empower patients and visitors to take control of their surroundings. It could be a patient’s TV and room temperature, or food selection and window blinds — what’s important is bringing the comforts of home to the hospital stay.
Furthermore, turning to IoT can help stimulate staff productivity. Nurses often spend a huge amount of time looking for assets central to performing their jobs, such as IV poles or thermometers. Tracking applications can quicken up the process, while simultaneously optimising hospital workflows and boosting productivity along the way.
Real-time asset tracking applications can also track where people are for maximum staff efficiency, as well as monitor the interactions between patients, staff and assets to reduce infections picked up in hospital.
Tapping into IoT: Eisenstadt Hospital
Hospitals around the world are turning to IoT to get the most out of building assets, including St. John of God – the largest and oldest hospital in Eisenstadt, Austria.
The North Building is the latest edition to the hospital. Hospital management needed to ensure that the hospital’s estate department could effectively manage this new and expanded facility – aiming to maintain high levels of comfort and safety for staff, patients, and visitors alike. Some of the hospital’s aims included:
- Ensure optimum monitoring and control of the building management and lighting systems across the expanded and refurbished facility
- Respond quickly to issues and alarms
- Cyclically save data and generate graphics, databases, customerspecific applications and events
- Identify, monitor and report on trends, events and alarms
The hospital opted to turn to an Enterprise Buildings Integrator solution. This provided them with a number of different benefits. Firstly, the hospital was able to minimise issues and alarms. Additionally, the hospital can now respond faster and enhance comfort and safety for both patients and staff.
Understandably, the hospital was also keen to cut operational costs where possible. Again, this is where IoT offers real value. The solution implemented permitted St. John of God to monitor elemental and peripheral performance.
In doing so, they could have a detailed look into ongoing operation and reduce maintenance issues and costs. On a similar note, building managers are presented with a wealth of equipment data, owing to the system’s interface. Armed with this information, they can identify potential opportunities to generate additional savings, for example through minimising unnecessary energy usage.
Satisfying Patient Demand
Healthcare is no different from other industries in that the end users served — whether it be a patient, retail shopper or airport traveller — have ever-evolving expectations for experiences within a building, shaped largely by the increased connectivity around us. As hospitals continue to become smarter and more connected, they will be using more data and insights that affect daily operations and improve patient experiences — thereby demonstrating the power of IoT.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.