With an ageing population increasing pressure on Australia’s health systems, VAL JOVEVSKI writes that the adoption of emerging technology can play a valuable role in reducing facility-related costs and improving health outcomes.
Have a guess: what is this new building? It has 100 rooms and close to 250 beds. Each room is set to the occupant’s preferred temperature and, when the room isn’t in use, it defaults to setback mode, the lights are turned off and the temperature is relaxed. Airflow set points remain unchanged in case occupants arrive back unexpectedly. Residents can connect smartphones to the building’s app and operate the blinds to their room, letting in more or less natural light, as well as order their lunch from the restaurant.
This isn’t a five-star hotel I’m describing; it’s a hospital.
As our world becomes more connected, advanced technology has extended beyond patient medical care and into the hospital infrastructure itself. In particular, the Internet of Things (IoT) has changed the standard of information delivery and decision-making for both a building’s facility manager and its users. Each person can access information and control aspects of the building environment in their own way – whether it’s to improve operational efficiency, patient satisfaction or safety for all.
Change is here
The shift into an environment in which people use data for their health and well-being is already well underway. Consumers are already using wearable technology (smartwatches, fitness trackers etc) to measure personal health outcomes. In 2016, A PWC report into wearables found that 55 percent of Australians owned a wearable and that number was set to increase with almost half saying they were likely to purchase a smartwatch or fitness band in the next 12 months. These connected devices have the capacity to feed data to building, IT, power, security and clinical management systems to create smart hospitals.
Healthcare facilities can now make smarter decisions about their energy use based on critical room occupancy data that previously hasn’t been used to its full potential. Now hospitals need no longer waste energy by heating, cooling or lighting empty rooms, and can see when patients are in other areas of the hospital, to facilitate operational tasks that may disrupt a patient’s rest.
Patient safety presents another top concern. In healthcare facilities, uninterrupted access to power can mean the difference between life and death. Hospitals and surgical centres need constant, reliable power to feed medical instruments, life support machines, and diagnostic equipment. A one-day power loss can cost a hospital upwards of $1 million and patients their health or even their lives.
Addressing tomorrow’s problems today
New construction can meet the digital needs of today and tomorrow from the ground up. Existing hospitals, however, are faced with challenges. Many older facilities are not equipped with the right infrastructure to support energy and business efficiency – making their operating costs higher. Some can barely keep up with their backlog of maintenance, let alone comply with new sustainability regulations.
But there are solutions. IoT technology helps these facilities retain legacy systems, while identifying new opportunities for cost reduction. For example, by using cloud-based, automated building analytics and diagnostics software, hospitals can identify energy savings opportunities and prioritise those with the greatest impact for the least investment. This type of intelligent software can predict how much a health facility can save by implementing a specific energy conservation measure or performing maintenance on a particular asset.
Cut costs, not staff
With ageing infrastructure and growing populations, health facilities will strain under the pressure. Australia’s population is ageing, with one in seven people currently over the age of 65. By 2057, it is projected there will be 8.8 million older people in Australia (22 percent of the population). In 2016-17, there were 1.6 million emergency department (ED) presentations among people aged 65 and over – around one-fifth of the total 7.8 million presentations. In that year, people aged 85 and over accounted for almost one in four (23 percent) of all presentations for people aged 65 and over.
In healthcare, as more people use the system, traditional cost-cutting techniques – such as reducing staff or services – simply do not work. Instead, they place patient and employee health and safety at risk. By looking for savings elsewhere and focusing on personalisation and patient experience, hospital stays may not be as highly anticipated as hotel stays, but they’ll at least be as comfortable.
Val Jovevski is the director of the Health Segment for the Pacific Zone at Schneider Electric. Overseeing major public and private sector projects requiring innovative solutions and close consultation with clients, Val is regularly involved in the development and improvement of mission-critical systems in healthcare environments both in Australia and abroad.
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