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Smart Hospitals–Delivering Timely, Cost-effective, State-of-the-art Patient Care

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Written By: Beenish Zia, Chief Architect for Medical Imaging, Intel’s Health, Education, and Consumer Industries Organization

Rapid advances in AI and digital technologies are transforming when, where, and how we deliver healthcare. Nowhere is this more evident or more needed than in hospitals — where the ability to collect, analyze, and share data quickly is essential for the delivery of accurate and timely medical care. And yet, significant obstacles still exist.

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Like many of us, I’ve experienced firsthand the impacts of these obstacles. I was on vacation with my family when our 14-month-old suddenly developed a high fever, labored breathing, and vomiting. As we rushed our little one to the closest emergency room (ER), panic settled in.

At the ER, we joined a long line and waited for our turn to be greeted by an exhausted nurse. After taking vitals and background information, we were hurried to an ER patient room with a different attending nurse. They attached monitoring equipment and called a pediatric physician.

Finally, after what felt like forever, a physician arrived and reviewed the chart. The staff quickly administered medication and ran a series of x-ray and blood tests. We then waited several more hours to receive the results. By then, the medication was finally helping, and we received a diagnosis.

Overall, it took about 10 hours from the onset of symptoms to treatment. After 24 hours in the hospital, we were discharged. It took another day to receive an official diagnosis, and then another six months before the bills were available and our child’s medical record was updated. These delays in assessment, treatment, and billing lead me to ask:

If it’s possible to digitally transfer funds across financial institutions in seconds, have a video conference with participants around the globe, and perform remote surgery, shouldn’t it be possible for hospitals to deliver faster, more efficient, and accurate treatment?

Based on my work in the health, education, and consumer industries, I know that there are alternatives to our current processes. Fortunately, thanks to problems and solutions identified during the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry is realizing that real change is not only possible, but that connected and secure Smart Hospitals play a key role in streamlining medical care and improving patient experiences.

What are Smart Hospitals?

Smart Hospitals are digital-first institutions that augment the capabilities of medical staff by seamlessly integrating technologies like artificial intelligence throughout the organization. These technologies allow Smart Hospitals to distill clinical and business insights from the data generated by their ever-growing network of connected devices, such as imaging machines, sensors, and patient monitors.

“The idea is to embrace technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), and edge-to-cloud capabilities to help transform current hospital systems into Smart Hospitals.” – Beenish Zia, Chief Architect for Medical Imaging at Intel

These hospitals are taking a comprehensive approach to infrastructure modernization. They integrate digital and physical assets in a unified framework that ties various clinical and business workflows and assets together. As a result, Smart Hospitals can access and exchange data across health systems - from hospital to clinic to provider, helping them improve productivity and patient outcomes while reducing costs and downtime.

The key to creating Smart Hospitals is data — how it is collected, analyzed, stored, and shared. Smart Hospitals that can deploy technologies capable of managing a flood of data from applications and devices and put it to use through an organized framework have a unique opportunity to change the face of healthcare.

Effective use of data begins with the deployment of intelligent edge, hybrid, and multi-cloud technologies that collect, store, and share data securely. In this way, silos and complex infrastructures are avoided, clinicians’ workflows and patient experiences are improved, and costs are reduced. 

What technologies are involved and being integrated?

A number of technologies will enable Smart Hospitals to become a reality. These technologies fall into three major categories:

Network: Reliable and fast communication between all parties (patients, end users, and the Smart Hospital) involved in patient care via networked devices and the cloud. This will ensure that the data generated is collected, analyzed, and transferred securely and quickly to the appropriate destination.

Storage: Data generated by both medical and non-medical devices needs to be stored for compute and archival purposes, making an efficient, secure, and resilient storage infrastructure critical.

Compute: All data generated needs to be analyzed quickly and accurately to support real-time decisions being made by medical staff and to ensure that the data is transmitted and stored securely. Hence, a performant, scalable hardware and software compute framework is essential. 

The idea is to embrace technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), and edge-to-cloud capabilities to help transform current hospital systems into Smart Hospitals.

What would patient care and operations look like in a Smart Hospital?

Patient care and operations are anticipated to function differently, yet seem simple and familiar to physicians, nurses, technicians, and other healthcare staff. Technologies such as AI, 5G, IoT, and edge-to-cloud will complement and support clinicians through a variety of tools and technologies, including:

  • Automation of registration and other mundane and precision-driven tasks
  • Nursing stations that utilize AI and predictive analytics to reduce false-alarms and prioritize care when acute conditions develop, e.g., sepsis
  • Improved connectivity and shared data to seamlessly transfer critical patient data, e.g., Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan (SOAP) notes
  • Near-real-time image processing and distribution
  • Suggested diagnoses, recommended pharmaceuticals, and personalized care protocols fueled by AI and high-compute analysis of case studies and research data repositories as well as patient genetics, history, and clinical presentation
  • Telehealth systems that enable remote monitoring of patients in real-time

The possibilities are truly endless and limited only by our imagination. These technologies will give critically understaffed healthcare providers the time and bandwidth they need to deliver high-quality patient care, using data for more informed diagnosis and personalized treatments.

Let’s imagine how the scenario I described previously might have unfolded if my child was treated at a Smart Hospital.

When we noticed our child was getting sick at our hotel, I would have entered basic information about their age and previous health history, as well baseline temperature, blood oxygen, and other vitals into a Smart Hospital app on my mobile device before heading to the hospital.

Based on the information I entered, the hospital would have been prepared to receive us. We would have been automatically guided to an urgent care kiosk as soon as we arrived, instead of having to wait for an ER nurse to become available to process us.

Once we entered the urgent care kiosk, an AI-managed patient monitoring system would have re-taken vitals and recommend tests such as X-rays, bloodwork, and nasal swabs. Then, based on the results of those tests, that same AI-managed system would have requested a visit from a pediatric doctor, prompted a bed to be prepared, and admitted our child to the hospital.

Once admitted, navigation robots would have guided us to the hospital room. A nurse with access to my child’s medical record would be waiting for us. He would help our little one settle in, connect any necessary equipment, and provide acute care based on existing data. Once the doctor arrives, she would then validate any data-based treatment recommendations and augment as needed.

After being discharged from the Smart Hospital, an AI-assisted nurse would have checked in with us to make sure that our child was recovering. Our child’s health and billing records would also have been updated automatically.

In this hypothetical situation I just described, clinical throughput would have been managed more effectively, and the patient’s journey streamlined. In addition, efficiency would have been improved and valuable resources – such as physicians, nurses, technicians, and appurtenant staff – would have been freed up resulting in more patient-centric, personalized care and improved outcomes. The benefits of these institutions can help improve the lives of all involved throughout this entire process.

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The benefits of building Smart Hospitals are compelling, as the personal account described previously demonstrates. However, the changes that will be required to modernize digital infrastructures in our healthcare systems are significant and will take thoughtful planning and execution.

If this is a topic you’d like to explore further, we’d welcome your input during our discussions on Smart Hospital throughout the month of March. To join the Smart Hospital Conversation, visit the following platforms:

Click here for Intel’s Smart Hospital Technical Brief

Have any questions? Follow and connect with Beenish on LinkedIn – Beenish Zia