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  • Writer's picturePaul Torkan, P.Eng.

Digitalizing Your Hospital

Updated: Apr 10, 2019


“Digitalizing” a hospital, not to be confused with digitizing, refers to the improvement of a business model by means of integrating digital technologies and data extraction. Leveraging digital technologies to automate processes reduces manual effort and ultimately improves service at a reduced cost.


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The healthcare supply chain is a complex, synchronized system of processes that aligns staff, doctors, distributors, providers, regulators, insurance companies, patients, and government agencies. Digitalization has made an isolated impact on each component of this system in the past few years through increased use of real time data and interdepartmental data sharing.


There are many benefits associated with digitalization that affect not only staff, but patients as well. Decreased documentation and administrative requirement increases staff satisfaction, while a decreased length of stay in the hospital and improved operational efficiency improves the patient’s overall experience.



Digital Patient Care


Digital technology enhances the patient experience by conferring convenience. Automation of processes and activities enables the hospital to operate in a more controlled and efficient way, while providing physicians and staff with more time to interact with patients.


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Since network-connected medical devices are already transforming the way the healthcare industry works, the next step of evolution for hospitals will rely on harnessing vast amounts of data obtained from such devices. Embracing digital technology will not only deliver personalized care to patients, but also lower the overall cost of healthcare. The following are a few of the benefits of digitalization that augment the efficiency of patient care:


○ Patient data sharing within the hospital, or between different healthcare providers using data exchange process via cloud networks.


○ Automation of radiology by using machine algorithm and programmable logic controllers (PLCs).


○ Integrated clinical inventory management by using Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS)


○ Optimization of hospital departments using RTLS for staff, patient, and equipment.


○ Use of wearable technology to monitor the patient’s condition remotely, including smart watches and electroluminescent clothing.

The da VinciⓇ Surgical System. Photo Credit: medicalfuturist.com

○ Virtual operating rooms equipped with state-of-the-art precision instrumentation and robotic systems.


○ Home care via mobile app that provides patients with daily rehabilitation exercise guidance following orthopaedic procedures and real time adjustments to be made by clinicians.


○ Use of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) for patient food and medicine deliveries.


○ Patient Infotainment System (eg. Pay TV, internet, video visit, weather, online games, clinic information, soft touch nurse calling, digital ordering of meals).



Digital Facility Management

The increased demand for flexible and effective performance in facility management has focused digitalization on generating, storing, and sharing documents and drawings. The next wave involves data sharing, data analytics, and process optimization. As an example, interlinking building geography & operational parameters to generate work orders will help shift from reactive to condition-based maintenance.


When considering facility management and the planning process, correct implementation of advanced tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) have paved the way for better cost management. Below, are some examples of how digitalization could improve the facility management of a hospital:


○ Integration of CMMS with the Time and Attendance System for proper maintenance planning.


○ Equipment parameters with CMMS and BIM for predictive maintenance.


○ Room occupancy data with lighting control software and CMMS for energy conservation.


○ Automatic extraction of data update from call centre software (in most cases CMMS) to produce live inspection rounds


○ Auto analysis of mean time between failures (MTBFs) to produce predictive data.


○ Workflow optimization by use of RTLS for technicians and equipment on wheel.


○ Use of building automation system (BAS) sensors for hospital occupancy optimization.


○ Proactive capital replacement scheduling based on CMMS, MTBFs and BAS data.



Things To Consider


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Digitalization presents an excellent opportunity to reduce costs and must be planned appropriately with an adequate budget for the whole program. Implementation of each component can occur gradually however; the overall infrastructure must be formalized in an integrated way from conception. Here are a few points that mitigate your risk when digitalizing:


○ The plan should be available from the beginning of the project onward so that implementation may be optimized and can exclude potentially obsolete components during installation.


○ Rapid advancements in technology will likely render individual components obsolete while others remain contemporary. System components should be structured such that future replacement or upgrades may be applied section-by-section without affecting the performance of the total system.


○ Data protection will need to be incorporated in all aspects of digitalization, in order to maintain confidentiality of sensitive information.


○ Most organizations do not consider the cost involved with lifecycle replacements or upgrade of the associated software and firmware, and this is due to the virtual nature of these elements. Earlier component replacements could turn into a mass replacement of the entire system due to an expired operating system, software, firmware, or other component. A synchronized maintenance and replacement program is necessary from the beginning.


○ Lifecycle data for electronic equipment are not as reliable and mean time between failures (MTBFs) cannot be accurately extrapolated. Ensure that the design has redundancy and adequate pre-programmed spare parts such as servers and switches “Plug and Play” capabilities in order to mitigate service interruptions.


○ There may be a misconception regarding labour reduction which could cause resistance to implementation from hospital and maintenance staff. Education via regular user group sessions will be instrumental in addressing this potential concern.


○ Electronic components fail with minimum warning, so prepare to increase the volume of your workforce or gradually provide upgrades to existing technicians to deal with maintenance and potential failures.


○ An incremental increase in energy costs due to additional electronic equipment may occur, so budget for it.


○ A study of your emergency power infrastructure can provide useful data regarding the possible requirement for additional uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and/or generator power to keep your digital equipment seamlessly functional.



The Bottom Line

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Digitalization is not about replacing the workforce with technology. Rather, it is about collecting and integrating accurate data to build forecasting models and creating in-sync processes for patient care and hospital facility management. Digitalized hospitals provide a pleasant and effective patient experience through comprehensive use of digital data and automation of clinical functions.


While digitalization improves the patient experience and reduces healthcare cost, there are various factors that must be considered when planning for digital transformation. Hospital leaders in FM and clinical departments will need to be aware of all the determining factors that affect short-term and long-term costs, otherwise the project may take longer than expected or exceed the allocated budget, potentially leading to its abandonment.


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