operating room

IoT can help to bring together information technology and operating technology to help improve patient care and the physical environment

As our world becomes increasingly connected, the Internet of Things (IoT) has made a significant impact on the health care industry. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, assisted living centers and doctors’ offices exist to serve patients, and these facilities are increasingly using advanced technology to improve the care that they provide as well as impact day-to-day operations. These technologies offer new possibilities for health care structures of all sizes.

The connection of “things” to the internet is driving multiple trends and inspiring new workflows and practices within health care facilities, homes and beyond. In addition, rising health care costs are motivating health care organizations to adopt every available means to reduce those costs. Within health care, the IoT represents the frontier, the place where outer limits are being tested and tried in both facility management and patient care. IoT is also the future — the ultimate destination for an industry beset by aging facilities and rising operating costs.

What is IoT?

The IoT is the collection and exchange of data between interconnected physical devices via internet protocol. IoT devices allow users to connect, collect critical data, analyze and then react to data based on real-time information to enhance performance and prevent losses. The “things” that make up the IoT include any physical objects that collect and exchange data over the internet, most without any type of human input. While IoT devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit have taken off on the consumer side, more recently the business side of health care has begun to explore how IoT can impact facility operations and deliver better patient care.

IoT growth is global and crosses multiple business sectors, but perhaps no sector is being impacted as quickly or pervasively as health care. Gartner Inc. forecasts that 20.8 billion connected things will be in use by 2020, while Business Insider's BI Intelligence predicts that by that same year the installed base of health care IoT devices (excluding wearables like fitness trackers) will reach 646 million. That means that health care will account for 25 percent of the IoT market.

In addition, International Data Corp.'s IDC Spending Guide forecasts worldwide spending on IoT will grow to nearly $1.3 trillion in 2019.

Health care IoT trends

Facility management and operation are now a focus for IoT-enabled improvement. Health care leaders see the potential that IoT offers to improve operational efficiency, as well as safety and satisfaction for patients.

The convergence of information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT) is a new layer of digital transformation happening inside businesses, including health facilities. IT comprises the computer systems and networks that store, manage and harvest business data. OT is similar. It’s the hardware and software required to make the highest and best use of resources used to operate an organization including staff, resources, equipment and facilities.

IT/OT convergence relies on the presence of a secure, open, scalable and flexible IoT platform, which bridges the IT/OT gap and connects three core layers — connected products, monitoring and control software and apps and analytics. This platform should provide a digital health care infrastructure with:

  • Embedded connectivity and intelligence
  • Smart control, management, automation and optimization
  • Cloud-based digital services

This convergence will lead to greater utilization and ROI of “connected” infrastructure devices such as temperature sensors, power meters, circuit breaker panels, uninterruptible power supply devices, building automation controllers, real-time location system devices and more. These IoT-enabled devices provide embedded intelligence and control, can often be controlled and monitored via the cloud, and with the help of software can provide advanced analytics. Data collected from connected devices is used to drive better decision-making and process improvements.

In new health care facilities, IT/OT convergence will be built into design plans, allowing for optimal technology interoperability. In aging facilities, a technology layer will update legacy infrastructure, making it future-ready. This convergence will allow both sides to work together to produce a result that provides added value to the health care organization as a whole.

Improving patient experiences

In health facilities, patient satisfaction is paramount and will only grow in importance as providers offer patients more choice. Through IoT, there will be new opportunities to build patient loyalty, which ultimately leads to better patient outcomes — a main driver for hospitals around the world.

IoT puts a measure of control into the hands of patients through solutions such as mobile patient room control applications. For example, by using an app installed on their smartphone, patients can create their own optimal healing environment through individual control over their room temperature, lighting and window blinds rather than calling on nurses to perform these basic tasks. In turn, this frees nurses up to spend more time on clinical tasks that will improve patient care.

Patient safety presents another top concern. In health care facilities, uninterrupted access to power can mean the difference between life and death. Hospitals and surgical centers need constant, reliable power to feed medical devices. A one-day power loss can cost a hospital upward of $1 million, according to Schneider Electric's 2010 report "How Unreliable Power Affects the Business Value of a Hospital."

IoT-enabled power management solutions such as electrical panels, connected power meters and power monitoring software can ensure reliable electrical power to critical areas, identify potential issues before a failure occurs, reduce operating theater downtime and automatically test emergency power supply systems.

Cutting costs without cutting service

Like so many other sectors, health care facilities face the need to do more with less. Their operating costs continue to rise, while budgets decline. Rising health care costs put added pressure on hospitals to reduce their expenses. Energy efficiency is a hidden opportunity to help health facilities reduce operating costs and improve their financial health.

Aging facilities compound the problem of energy costs, as existing hospitals don’t have the luxury of ripping and replacing outdated infrastructure. In the U.S., most hospitals are more than 30 years old. In the U.K., that age rises significantly. Many aging facilities are not equipped with the right infrastructure to support energy and business efficiency. However, IoT technology can help these facilities keep legacy systems while identifying new opportunities for cost reduction.

By using cloud-based, automated building analytics and diagnostics software, hospitals can benefit from predictive maintenance and identify savings opportunities and prioritize those with the greatest impact for the least investment. This type of software is so intelligent it can predict how much a health facility can save by implementing a specific energy conservation measure or performing maintenance on a particular asset.

According to Deloitte, a smart building can save upward of $18 million in operating expenses over a traditional, non IoT-enabled building.

Health care organizations need a single, future-ready building management system (BMS) solution that makes their facilities safe, comfortable and efficient. The BMS needs to be scalable, open, flexible and act as the IP backbone to connect energy, automation and software.

Acting as the hospital’s digital hub, an intelligent BMS links critical systems across the enterprise so data can be collected, analyzed and managed to optimize operational performance while driving 30-40 percent more energy efficiency, as well as comfort and safety for all. An IoT-enabled BMS takes a hybrid approach and uses the cloud or is hosted on-premise. In essence, the BMS uses IoT to network systems that may not have been connected before, like lighting, HVAC, security and access control, as well as connected devices such as valves, actuators, sensors and meters.

Advantage of the IoT

With aging infrastructure and growing populations, the world’s health facilities will strain under pressure. In health care, traditional cost-cutting techniques — like reducing staff or services — simply do not work.

IoT makes cost cutting possible by making facility, asset and energy management easier. Imagine a hospital that delivers better patient outcomes, improved asset use, reduced energy consumption, no operating room downtime and information that can be used to stay ahead rather than simply keep up. Representing both the frontier and the future of health care, these are the advantages that IoT brings to a health facility.

Warren Rosebraugh is director, health care solution architect, at Schneider Electric. He can be reached at warren.rosebraugh@schneider-electric.com