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How smart hospitals can help patients heal



By Steve Jamieson, business development manager at Siemens.

The pressures experienced in the healthcare sector are considerable and will only intensify, so it has never been more important to optimise all available resources. Critical to this process is finding ways for hospitals to become more efficient and thereby facilitate their patients’ healing process.

Smart infrastructure technologies can support this. When patients are in a more comfortable environment, research has shown there is a positive impact on their recovery. How the environment can influence a patient’s wellbeing was first scientifically explored by professor Roger Ulrich in the 1980s, when he investigated whether there was any measurable improvement in a patient’s recovery when they were staying in rooms with different views.

His study showed that patients who had windows overlooking nature – rather than a building – experienced shorter stays, needed fewer pain killers and felt generally more optimistic about their outcomes. These findings ultimately drove greater awareness and a better understanding of how hospital architecture can affect both a patient’s physical condition and state of mind.

Recognising the vital role that the building, and especially its digital systems, can play, smart building design is now widely used to allow hospital staff to work more efficiently and to help patients heal more quickly.

In fact, evidence-based design (EBD), the process of making changes to the built environment based on research to improve outcomes, has resulted in lower numbers of hospital-acquired infections, fewer patient accidents, fewer medical errors and fewer staff injuries.

Using EBD techniques, architects and designers have been developing solutions for better healing environments. Healthcare facilities have very unique requirements, with specialised hospital rooms requiring bespoke implementations for patient recovery wards, operating theatres, pressurised rooms and laboratories.

Across all those spaces, careful design makes a big difference, improving safety and productivity, reducing staff stress levels, lowering resource wastage and enhancing a hospital’s environmental footprint.

Today, digital infrastructure technologies such as adaptive building technology (digitally controlled lighting, temperature, humidity), real-time location services and connected Internet of Things systems can all help with patient and asset flow, asset tracking, environmental monitoring and generally building a better healing environment.

There is, however, a fine balance between providing optimum recovery conditions in patient rooms and creating an ideal work environment so staff can deliver the best care.

A people-centred approach that considers specific use cases – rather than too much focus on technology – is fundamental to a successful smart hospital. For patient satisfaction, access to Wi-Fi and having personal control over room conditions such as ambient temperature, lighting and shades are important factors.

Controlling room automation systems via a smartphone or tablet allows patients to adjust the parameters that improve their individual comfort. It’s also possible to offer this control via patient terminals or to integrate it with a voice-controlled system like Alexa.

In addition, wearable tags can be used to track a patient’s vital signs and automate control of the recovery environment.

Circadian lighting follows a patient’s natural daily rhythm and sleep/wake cycle and has been shown to improve recovery sleep and reduce tiredness, while noise can be minimised through the use of sound-absorbent materials in ceilings and flooring.

Acuity-adaptable spaces lessen the movement of patients, reducing stress on both patients and staff.

Operating theatres are particularly complex environments. They need to be spacious, hygienic and well lit with overhead surgical lights. As they are generally windowless, temperature and humidity levels must be carefully controlled. Pressurised rooms, designed to isolate patients with infectious diseases, also require tight air management and advanced filtering systems.

Medical or clinical laboratories, where approximately 70% of treatment decisions are made, need equally stable conditions with exact controls over temperature, humidity and sometimes, pressure.

Intelligent infrastructure and connected IoT technologies are an expanding area of interest to healthcare planners as they allow hospital operators to derive more value from their existing assets by making them smarter.

By integrating and automating power, air and lighting control systems and employing space and equipment tracking solutions, hospitals can optimise their energy usage, workflow efficiency and space utilisation.

Collecting and evaluating operational data from hospital systems helps improve their performance throughout their lifecycle, as long as this data is properly structured, correlated, analysed, and put to work. This new approach, where the building itself continuously learns and adapts to the constantly changing needs of its users, is heralding the new age of the smart hospital.

Smart hospitals can even use a digital twin – a virtual model of their buildings and processes based on live data – to visualise the status of their assets. For example, the digital twin can help nursing staff identify areas that have an increased potential for developing legionella; adaptable room light levels can help support patients who may be susceptible to changing light conditions following eye surgery; cleaning staff can see the status of rooms and whether it is safe to enter them. In hospital management, KPIs can be visualised in the digital twin to monitor the departments and how they’re performing against specific criteria.

Overall, better performing buildings provide higher comfort levels and wellbeing for all occupants.

Hospitals are never going to be places that people particularly enjoy visiting, but through better design and the use of smart technologies, planners can alleviate a lot of the stress and fear that comes from needing hospital care, and ultimately speed up recovery.

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