Smart hospitals: the future of healthcare?

By Matt High
How will smart hospitals and innovative digital technologies combat the challenges facing the healthcare sector...

The coming decade will bring unprecedented challenges for the global healthcare industry. 

In addition to emergent threats like the COVID-19 pandemic, the global population is not only getting larger, it is also ageing. By 2030, the world will be home to more than 8.5 billion people. By 2050, the number of people over the age of 60 will have doubled in comparison to 2015. 

“As healthier lifestyles are enhanced by significant improvements in healthcare, we’re living longer. While this is a welcome development, it does bring challenges,” according to Siemens’ report: The Age of the Smart Hospital. But what are the most daunting challenges facing the global healthcare sector, and how do industry leaders Siemens, McKinsey and Accenture propose that innovation, digital technologies and the rise of the smart hospital can meet them? 

The rise of the smart hospital

“Technological enablement, digitisation, and automation are affecting industries today in profound ways,” writes Bo Chen, Axel Baur, Marek Stepniak and Jin Wang, analysts and authors of McKinsey’s report, Finding the Future of Care Provision: The Role of Smart Hospitals, “Healthcare delivery is no exception.” 

As the transformative effects of Industry 4.0 bring digital transformation and new, innovative technologies to every sector, the healthcare industry is no exception. One of the most pronounced effects of this global digital transformation is the rise of “smart” infrastructure, says McKinsey, a development that is already affecting tens of thousands of cities, offices and homes around the world. 

Smart infrastructure makes extensive use of emergent technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) in order to create more integrated, efficient spaces that better suit the needs of their users and occupants. 

This is no different in the healthcare space. Indeed, McKinsey states that smart hospitals are not only being used to improve care delivery within the building, but to also connect to, and contribute towards, the broader healthcare delivery ecosystem. 

According to McKinsey, a host of new technologies are being integrated into hospitals and healthcare delivery, including: 

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Robotics
  • Precision medicine
  • 3-D printing
  • Augmented and virtual reality
  • Genomics
  • Telemedicine

Implementing these and other digital technologies, says McKinsey, could help to realise cost savings of over 10% of overall annual national healthcare expenditures for most OECD countries. To further evidence the potential scale of the market, it is noted that venture capital funding for digital health solutions has grown from $1bn in 2011 to over $8bn in 2018. 

“For many, the term “smart” conjures images of apps, but the smart hospital is much more than that. It’s a healing environment where the increasing digitisation of the building means that the technology is working seamlessly to deliver benefits to the people connecting to it,” writes Siemens . 

“In a smart hospital, the focus is on the digital systems and the potential they offer to the building itself to effectively become a member of the team.” 

These digital systems can mean anything from climate control to asset tracking and patient flow management. By using powerful new technologies like digital twins and data analytics, hospital administrators can better understand the needs of both patients and staff in order to create a more seamless experience and higher standards of care.


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