As with all early-stage markets, customers interested in monetising IoT are hungry for examples of compelling use cases. Over the past six weeks, my colleagues and I have been exchanging views with IoT deployment leads across EMEA, and from the healthcare respondents, found the following real-life examples. These are hospital-centric examples, in addition to the patient centric examples discussed by Petri Roine in this blog post.
No1: Improved tracking of resources
- Better management of hospital processes, such as laundry. Processes that are not directly connected to patient care are not exactly the sexy side of healthcare. Nevertheless, they are important—no hospital can continue to function without a laundry service, or one to sterilize equipment—and can also consume an astonishing amount of resources. Improving the handling of equipment by using IoT and automated systems can hugely improve the service to staff, and therefore to patients, and cost less.
- Better use of hospital assets such as expensive equipment. Portable equipment gets moved about, from patient to patient, but it’s not always returned after use. An IoT-based system that can track expensive assets and locate them immediately can save huge amounts of staff time having to search for lost equipment. It can also improve patient care, because patients no longer have to wait for the equipment to be found.
- Reducing time for maintenance of equipment such as diagnostics. IoT-based tracking systems for hospital equipment and machinery have another use: they can also save time required for maintenance. If a machine or piece of equipment can be located immediately, technicians have more time to spend on maintenance, and machinery is therefore likely to be absent for less time. This improves both productivity and patient care.
- Ability to locate particular pieces of equipment instantly in the event of problems. It may not happen often, but sometimes one or two particular pieces of equipment need to be withdrawn from service immediately because of problems, such as a manufacturer’s recall. Being able to locate those precise pieces of equipment without having to check every last item in the hospital can save huge amounts of staff time.
No2: Improved identification, tracking and monitoring of patients
- Reducing mistakes in theatre by improving checking processes. It’s not a great thought, but mistakes do happen in operating theatres. Sometimes the wrong patient, sometimes the wrong procedure, and with patients anaesthetized, they can’t alert anyone before the mistake happens. Smart wristbands and digital photo identification have been successfully used to automate patient recognition, and reduce this type of error.
- Improved information for families and friends waiting for news. Sometimes it is easy to forget the importance of passing information to family and friends. However, an automated system using smart wristbands can provide immediate feedback on the patient’s location to relatives waiting anxiously for news in the emergency unit. Even if that news is as simple as that, the patient is now out of theatre and in recovery, or on their way to the intensive care ward, automatically relaying it can be very reassuring, and allow nurses to focus on patients, not passing on news to relatives.
- Improved patient safety through medication tracking and matching. Mistakes in drug administration are one of the most common errors in healthcare. IoT-based systems can be used to identify, track and match medication from pharmacy to patient, and remove the potential for at least some errors.
- Patients with dementia and other mental illnesses can be kept safer. Dementia and other mental illnesses provide a particular challenge for healthcare: how to keep safe people who do not necessarily co-operate with treatment. IoT-based systems offer potential for non-invasive tracking systems that can be used in real-time.
No3: Improved administration processes
- Data gathering and transfer can be automated and improved. Data gathering and transfer are not the primary function of most IoT-based applications so far, but they are a key side-benefit of many. Automatic transfer of information to back-office functions can improve logistics and supply-chain management in hospitals just as they can elsewhere. For example, medicines can be reordered automatically when they reach certain critically low levels.
- Improved staff monitoring and compliance. IoT can be used to improve security, by ensuring that only authorised staff can enter certain areas, or that staff engage in particular behaviours required to improve patient safety, such as regular hand-washing. This does, of course, require staff to co-operate by wearing wristbands. One pilot found that staff frequently forgot to wear tags, so the potential for this may be more limited.
Do you have other examples of IoT use cases within the hospital environment? We’d love to hear from you. You can take an inspiration by reading Internet of Things: Visualise the Impact.