The hospital of the future – how to fully realise digitalised healthcare
Healthcare institutions are currently facing huge pressures to be delivering more digitally-focused services for the public, while also aiming to maintain a balance between safety, performance and financial control. With ageing populations, increased costs and higher demand for care, something must change in order to drive greater performance.
You may think this an insurmountable task, but actually digital health is already on its way to becoming a reality. Take Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust for example, where ‘Wi-Fi is like electricity’ and the hospital’s wireless network is facilitating a whole range of devices – from infection control laptops and staff PCs, through to radio tags that track patient trolleys in the emergency department. The network being used here is a platform for innovation. Applications like electronic patient case files, wireless temperature monitoring tags for blood fridges and a virtual desktop service are already improving operations.
How will technology change the healthcare industry by 2030?
Big changes are certainly on the horizon. Over the next decade we will likely be moving to more automated medical check-ups in order to meet the greater demand on doctors in the wake of staff shortages and stretched budgets. This will become significantly more important as healthcare organisations re-build services around the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI.
Far from the healthcare institution we know today, the future will be far more streamlined. As soon as you enter the hospital, your vitals will be monitored using imaging technology that can assess your heart rate, temperature and respiratory rate. Where sensors perform a blood pressure and electrocardiogram (ECG) test within 10 seconds, and automatic triage or even diagnosis, can be done there and then. With this quicker diagnosis, there will be no waiting around for results, or a follow-up appointment to share them with your doctor.
This will help the people working in and visiting the hospital to be much more empowered. Caregivers will have more time to focus on patients rather than admin, they’ll have better digital data repositories and therefore much richer information for decision making. Better still, they’ll be able to access all of the digital patient records on their mobile devices. Patients themselves won’t even need to enter the hospital for diagnosis. With app-based and wearable tools we’ll be able to monitor health and even carry out our own scans. In turn, it’s likely that we’ll become much more open to AI playing a role in diagnosis and treatment. Provided that services are designed and implemented around patients, and permission is sought, of course.
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Finding the Balance between experience and risk
While this innovation sounds exciting and game-changing, how will hospitals ensure that there are no security risks from the addition of technology? Technological developments may improve the user experience but it needs to be balanced with the risk in order to succeed.
Aruba’s own research finds that nearly two thirds (64%) of healthcare organisations have begun to connect patient monitors to their network, and 41% are connecting imaging or x-ray devices. Such measures are the building blocks for an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy, with potentially millions of interconnected medical, wearable and mobile devices sharing up-to-date information. However, the explosion and sharing of patient data can also pose a significant risk if mismanaged. For example, 89% of healthcare organisations that have adopted an IoT strategy, have experienced an IoT-related data breach.
A clear danger will be the surge in the amount of external devices linking to the network. It will be critical for organisations to maintain visibility of devices connecting to the network and sharing medical data, so that strict security rules can be applied. This is not just an issue for the future – currently, most companies have built their network using a series of technology solutions from multiple vendors, but they often a lack of cohesion between these disparate solutions. This approach lacks visibility, creates spiraling costs and inefficient process. Not to mention potential gaps for security breach and compromised user data.
In order to provide a single network view, companies need prioritise an open standards architecture. That way they can achieve a holistic view of multi-vendor environments and ensure that data is effectively contextualised, made secure, and analysed. We expect that the change driven by technology developments will encourage healthcare companies to partner with providers who can help them negotiate this challenge and overlay new technology to enhance the equipment that’s already there. Doing so, they can better protect the data within it without having to rip and replace, and utilise it better to provide more memorable experiences to the user.
In order to see the evolution we expect by 2030, healthcare providers need to find a way to deliver the necessary services more efficiently, less expensively and more effectively. These answers lie in the adoption of technology that can make a difference on security, experiences and outcomes alike.
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.