From expediting diagnosis to enabling remote patient monitoring, smart technologies are playing a key role in improving patient outcomes, lowering costs, and creating efficiencies in today’s healthcare.
by Nalin Amunugama
A geing populations, the rise of chronic diseases, and the growing demand for quality standards and services are realities that are shaping the healthcare landscape in cities around the world today. Delivering value to expanded groups has taken on new importance for healthcare providers, amidst cost and resource constraints and evolving expectations of increasingly empowered consumers. These factors are steadily driving the sector’s transformational shift towards digitalisation, placing smart technologies at the core of processes that leverage interoperability and integration.
In Asia, smart healthcare is progressing more rapidly than many players recognise, evinced by increasing budgets to support these developments. Healthcare IT expenditure in the Philippines is predicted to reach US$60 million by 2019, while the implementation of the Digital India Initiative will contribute to the country’s healthcare sector to be worth US$280 billion by 2020.1 And as the region moves towards big data and cloud platforms, providers and patients alike can anticipate improved real-time access to vital information and increased visibility in the industry.
Considered significant sites for tech adoption, healthcare facilities increasingly feature connected devices, easy-to-use wearables, and Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled applications to better serve patients, while remaining operationally efficient. Supported by cloud-based systems, these implementations improve the storage, management and analytics of large amounts of data, resulting in smoother back-end functions and enhanced workflows.
One such hospital that optimises wireless connectivity and immediate access to updated data is Nagasaki University Hospital in Japan. Since 2015, the hospital has been using mobile touch-screen computers to read barcodes on tags. This system, part of a three-point authentication process, involves the confirmation of a target (i.e. wristband on a patient) by a nurse, an administrator (i.e. identification of medical personnel) and the drug, before any medication is administered.1 Not only do the medical staff spend less time checking patient records and drug inventories, the seamless system also ensures minimal lapses, including imprecise prescription of medication.
The hospital’s computers are connected to Wi-Fi networks, and rely on near-field communications technology to transmit data. Daily tasks like data entry and record-taking can therefore be performed concurrently and in real-time, helping to boost overall productivity and accuracy.
Automated tracking via radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have been just as successfully deployed in hospitals to address logistical challenges and reduce inefficiencies. In Det Nye Universitetshospital in Aarhus, Denmark, staff and approximately 20,000 objects – from hospital beds to wheelchairs and medical devices – carry or are embedded with RFID tags to allow personnel to locate them through information screens installed in the premises or on a mobile app.2
Easy tracking means less time is wasted on locating and mobilising much-needed assets, enabling staff to focus on core responsibilities, namely, attending to patients. Improved accountability and traceability, capable of supporting efficiency and patient safety, will be a cornerstone of this initiative.
Internal inefficacies can also be attributed to under-utilised or energy-wasting equipment. This becomes a concern especially with critical assets like compressed air systems that provide hospitals with a reliable supply of medical compressed air. A vital resource in the day-to-day-operations of hospitals, medical compressed air is used in processes like artificial respiration, operating surgical tools, and inspecting and drying medical devices.
For a company specialising in compressed air systems, BOGE recognises the importance of supplying compressed air that complies with statutory requirements and safety standards, and hospitals’ need to remain energy-efficient. It leverages Industry 4.0 technologies to ensure compressed air production can be evaluated and optimised immediately.
Among its customised solutions is air compressors equipped with smart monitoring systems. The Airtelligence Provis 2.0, for example, commands up to 16 air compressors with the help of browser-based visualisation that is linked to an existing server structure enabled by an Ethernet interface. Users can log into their computers to review data, including pressure history and free air delivery.
BOGE’s airstatus, on the other hand, allows users to control up to 32 components – from wherever and at any time – through the airstatus app on a smartphone. The remote diagnostics tool provides ongoing updates on operating and idle time, maintenance status and more, making sure that abnormalities are quickly detected, and performance is optimised. Such technologies, centred on digitalised management and coordination, enable hospitals to save on operating and energy costs while ensuring that medical operations relying on compressed air remain uninterrupted.
The push for digitisation in hospitals comes amid yet another problem – the global shortage of healthcare professionals. According to the World Health Organisation, this shortfall is projected to hit over 14 million in 2030, with Southeast Asia suffering one of the largest needs-based shortages.3 In short-handed clinics and hospitals, technology becomes crucial as a multiplier of productivity.
KroniKare, a scanner that helps nurses quickly assess wounds, is helping hospitals cut down on time spent on relatively simpler procedures, so that they can care for more patients. The Singapore-developed device, which has been on trial at Saint Andrew’s Community Hospital since August 2017, reduces wound assessments to just 30 seconds. Utilising a thermal imaging system that is controlled by artificial intelligence, the scanner estimates the severity and depth of wounds with accuracy down to 1mm, and detects early signs of complications.4 Patients simply create a 5-second video of their wounds to be analysed by a mobile app. The data, along with patient records, are then sent to healthcare personnel for further evaluation.
Wound care is extremely manual and time-consuming as it requires nurses to visually assess, physically probe and measure the wound. Automation via this device expedites the process that would typically take 30 minutes to complete.
Singapore-based medical mobile app, Speedoc, similarly addresses staff shortages in hospitals – but by bringing medical assistance out of these facilities. The digital platform offers users a number of medical services, including the delivery of medicines to their doorstep. Available doctors are matched to patients within a 5-kilometre radius of their location. They can also carry out certain procedures normally done at A&E clinics. This makes medical assistance accessible to more people, eliminates waiting and travelling times, and removes the burden on short-handed healthcare facilities.
A future-ready sector
Technology is rapidly changing the face of today’s healthcare industry, bringing unprecedented mobility, transparency and efficiency to simpler processes and more complicated workflows. Digital applications, cloud platforms and IoT-enabled devices, among others, will play a key role in improving both work environments and patient experience.
Given Asia’s growing middle class and its increased demands for senior healthcare in light of its rapidly ageing population, the region undoubtedly presents exciting growth opportunities for tech development and implementation. New IT innovations and business models built around big data will be significant contributors to creating a robust, future-ready healthcare sector.
- Wayne Harper. 2017. Bringing increased visibility in the healthcare industry with tracking technologies. <https://www.enterpriseinnovation.net/article/bringing-increased-visibility-healthcare-industry-tracking-technologies-1279468447>
- GS1 Denmark. 2017. The New University Hospital in Aarhus addresses logistical challenges with EPCIS, GS1 and RFID. <https://www.gs1.dk/hvem-er-vi/nyheder/det-nye-universitetshospital-i-aarhus-loeser-logistiske-udfordringer-med-epcis-gs1-og-rfid/>
- World Health Organisation. 2016. Global strategy on human resources for health: Workforce 2030. <http://www.who.int/hrh/resources/global_strategy_workforce2030_14_print.pdf?ua=1>
- Trinity Chua. 2017. AI startup KroniKare diagnoses wounds with smartphones. <http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/ai-startup-kronikare-diagnoses-wounds-smartphones>
Nalin Amunugama is the general manager of BOGE Kompressoren Asia Pacific