Hospitals for the digital age: why connectivity is key

By Dave Hopping
Dave Hopping CEO Solutions and Services, Siemens Smart Infrastructure

Hospitals are under huge pressure. While an ageing global population continues to increase demand for healthcare services, a deficit of staff – predicted by some to be 18 million workers worldwide by 2030 – is leaving hospitals struggling to keep up. Energy costs are rising, there is continual pressure to decarbonize, and patients - now accustomed to managing their lives in a digital, app-based environment – have ever-higher expectations of service levels.

With most western countries spending more than 10% of GDP on healthcare, and hospitals using significantly more energy than similarly sized commercial buildings, operating this critical infrastructure is already an expensive business for people and the environment. Hospitals are in the unenviable position of having to do more with less.

Where should they begin? The inherently complex nature of hospitals - and their many stakeholders - poses an interesting challenge. A ‘smart hospital’ needs not only to have a better-functioning, lower maintenance and more efficient building, but one which also actively contributes to the efficiency of technical and clinical staff, and the experience and wellbeing of patients. People and infrastructure need to work in harmony, but without a holistic technology strategy, hospitals will increasingly struggle to meet the demands placed upon them.


Integration is the key

The good news is that most of the infrastructure is already there. Conventional hospitals already have the infrastructure they need to operate, such as HVAC, fire safety systems and elevators. But they lack one critical element: integration. Bringing together these disparate components to work as one holistic system is the foundation of a truly smart hospital.

By integrating a hospital’s systems into a common data environment, workflows which rely on collaboration between different subsystems can be optimized with data-driven decision-making and automation. Applied intelligently, digitalization is an incredibly powerful tool for better supporting patients, staff, building efficiency and sustainability ambitions. 

For example: in a code blue situation, a patient needs to be transported to an operating room as swiftly as possible. By connecting real time location services (RTLS), access control, elevators, lighting and HVAC, the team transporting the patient could be accurately tracked. Doors on their route are automatically unlocked, elevators are reserved and waiting with the doors open, and the operating room is automatically switched to full operating mode before the team arrives.

With data integrated from OT, IT, building and medical infrastructure, hospital staff are able to work more efficiently. According to some reports, some hospital staff spend on average more than 70 minutes per shift searching for equipment, while utilization rates for mobile medical equipment are below 40%. With asset tracking via RTLS and a computerised maintenance management system, hospital staff can locate the nearest item they need, and report missing or broken equipment from a smartphone.

Ankara City Hospital in Turkey is a great example of an intelligently digitalized hospital, and a project we’re proud of. This 4,000-bed hospital campus employs a single integrated building management platform – in this case Desigo CC – to centrally monitor and control 22 subsystems with almost 800,000 data points, across energy supply, HVAC, lighting, access control and CCTV. The data is brought together by Siemens Xcelerator and used to improve patient care, optimize staff efficiency and streamline workflows across the campus.


Energy impact

The impact of digitalisation on a hospital’s energy usage, resiliency and costs shouldn’t be underestimated, either. As well as being extremely energy-hungry, hospitals – despite their backup systems – experience unplanned outages more frequently than you might expect. Smart hospitals will use green energy solutions and storage to reduce CO2 footprint, and deploy microgrids to manage energy demand and costs, while absorbing fluctuations to boost resilience.

The adoption of new service models is also making technology deployment in hospitals more cost effective. For more than ten years, an energy service agreement between Siemens and St Joseph’s Hospital in Berlin has, with a combination of technologies including the Desigo CC building management system, achieved average energy cost savings of €340,000 per year, and reduced CO2 by 1,300 tonnes per year.


An ecosystem of apps

The days of unwieldy, standalone software applications are over; they have too many redundant features and represent poor ROI. Smaller, cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and micro services enable users to subscribe and unsubscribe as needed, with hospital staff creating their own applications and dashboards.

Smart hospitals will need to work with partners to develop an ecosystem of applications which are tailored to the needs of different stakeholders, and which work across both new and legacy systems from multiple vendors. That’s why we’ve developed Siemens Xcelerator; properly leveraging partners and ecosystems will be crucial to the success of our next-generation hospitals.

No single person or company can solve the puzzle; hospitals are complex environments which require technology providers to understand the challenges and develop creative solutions which focus on openness and flexibility. The technology exists to create a seamless, human-centric experience for patients and staff, while simultaneously reducing costs and environmental impact. And we can’t afford not to.

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