A patient presents at a local hospital, suffering numerous symptoms that don’t lead to a simple diagnosis. A nurse takes diagnostic readings. Heart and respiration rates, blood pressure and pulse oximetry are quickly and accurately collected by digital devices that feed that data into the patient’s record, which is held in the hospital’s records management system.

Algorithms analyse that data, the patient’s history and other information such as the weather, diagnosis of people with similar symptoms and health warnings to prioritise the patient and suggest further tests. The patient’s medical history is made accessible through a consent system that may even use biometrics if the patient can’t give a verbal response.

The importance of data in healthcare is nothing new. But the data that healthcare professionals rely on has often been presented in an analog form, such as a report, which they need to personally analyse to make a diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. That challenge has been compounded by the constant movement of science as we learn more about diseases and conditions and develop new forms of treatment.

However, just as science has progressed, so has technology. Connected medical devices, under the generic banner of the internet of things (IoT) can collect and deliver data in near real time. That data, as well as information already stored in legacy systems, can be integrated so electronic systems can find patterns and connections. And it’s these systems that bring us into the era of the smart hospital.

“The concept starts with the patient at the centre. A smart hospital must be able to interact with the patient at each touch point to make their experience better,” says Dr. Vinod Seetharaman, healthcare industry business partner, Asia, at DXC Technology. “This is where technology comes in, in the shape of software, IoT devices and big data, all linked together with artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

In a smart hospital, technology delivers better outcomes from the moment the patients arrive and go through triage, all the way through the delivery of care and even through ongoing care after they leave the hospital.

Emerging technologies can now analyse and detect fractures in x-rays, while some research by Dr. Elliot Fishman at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore shows that algorithms can be used to detect hard-to-find tumours. While the accuracy of some of the systems still lags behind human analysis, the technology is getting better all the time.

The challenge for many hospitals and healthcare providers, says Dr. Seetharaman, is in determining where to start. He recommends starting from “foundational elements” where significant benefit can be delivered for a relatively low investment.

“Patient engagement solutions that make it easier for patients to interact with the healthcare system are a good place to start,” he says. “Targeted contextual patient education systems that better prepare patients to share the responsibility of wellness are also a good place to look, as are point solutions that help with operational efficiencies within health systems. This includes things like effective queue management combined with asset management such as assigning patients to rooms where they can access the required assets for care delivery in the shortest possible time.”

Dr. Seetharaman says becoming a smart hospital is not without challenges. A lack of standardization in healthcare technologies is confusing to healthcare technology buyers. This is compounded by wide-spread digitisation, where paper processes have shifted to digital, resulting in a “data deluge” that makes converting data into information and then insights – at scale – a major challenge.

Many healthcare practitioners are concerned about security, which should be considered through the entire smart hospital transition journey from design through procurement and commissioning. And security should also be part of ongoing monitoring, maintenance and development of smart hospital systems.

For hospitals making the move from legacy systems and processes to becoming a smart hospital, Dr. Seetharaman says:

“Engage with other hospitals and learn from similar experiences. Start with a long-term vision and an assessment of current maturity and design a phased digital transformation strategy that meaningfully straddles technology transformation and organisational change management.”

Dr. Seetharaman offers one last piece of advice: Engage with a seasoned digital technology partner to co-develop the future state.

Interested in learning more about smart hospitals and the technology of the future? Read “3 factors empowering a new generation of smart hospitals” to see how healthcare organizations are accommodating change through digital transformation.