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07 April 2022

Digitisation in the healthcare environment – the emergence of the smart hospital

The role of digitisation in the healthcare sector has been growing rapidly in recent years, as the need to modernise healthcare delivery has become all the more pressing, and it will be fundamental in the coming years as healthcare undergoes a transformation. A lot of the focus to date has been on the role of digital in the provision of clinical services, and yet, it also heavily touches the delivery of modern, efficient, cutting-edge facilities.   

Below, Kevin Kinsella, Director at Linesight provides an overview of some of the key aspects in this regard, before offering a brief insight into the costs and project management implications.  

Key trends in a digitised healthcare environment 

Using technology to inform the planning, delivery and operation of facilities 

Technology is increasingly playing a central role in the planning, delivery and operation of healthcare facilities. Whilst Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Virtual Design Construction (VDC) have being playing a key role in the design and delivery of healthcare facilities for circa 10 years, technology advances in the delivery and operation of such facilitates, have greatly advanced to include, for example:  

  • Network convergence (critical connectivity) 
  • Electronic Healthcare Records (EHR) 
  • Construction field technology such as Autodesk (complex project fit-out tracking and commissioning) 
  • Automated logistics systems in healthcare projects 
  • DCHI (Digital Construction Handover Information) 
  • BIM modelling (from a facilities management perspective) 
  • Power Management System (PMS) 
  • Digitisation of key medical equipment and design of the facility to accommodate same. 

The above represent extremely powerful advances in technology in healthcare environments that require foremost design and implementation, close collaboration amongst healthcare workstreams and expert management of the associated complex requirements in terms of cost, scheduling, quality, delivery and handover.  

Greater connectivity 

In fact, in early 2020, Omdia found the healthcare sector to be the fastest growing market for smart building technologies for the following five years, with global demand for connected equipment in-sector anticipated to grow at a rate that was 2% above the overall smart market building market average. The CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2018 and 2023 was expected to be almost 14%. 

Greater connectivity and implementation of the aforementioned platforms and systems will facilitate speedy, as well as accurate key healthcare data collation and analysis, and result in accelerated accurate decision-making capabilities. For example, the introduction of the EHR system into healthcare facilities will provide a one-stop shop for the passing of patient information from medical equipment (x-rays, scans, blood tests etc.) to patient records, as well as doctor/nursing patient information devices.   

From a facilities management (FM) perspective, automated logistics systems, DCHI and PMS all offer the healthcare client/user, the best-in-class management of hospital logistics, and ensuring that building systems and power management performance are at all times available in a digital capacity. 

Regarding the Converged Networks in a healthcare setting, the benefits of greater connectivity include, for example: 

  • Smart control over capacity planning due to port prioritization 
  • Affordable scalability 
  • Flexibility to incorporate future technologies 

System integration 

Many of the newer systems are relatively complex, and in comparison to other sectors, there is a greater degree of connectivity (as mentioned above) and more reliance on seamless integration with the Building Management Systems (BMS). There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is the need to optimise the operational management and guide the operational efficiency of the facility, as well as the potential to enhance patient care and experience.   

By leveraging the digitisation concept, systems can better work together and communicate to deliver efficiencies in all areas and automate workflows, which only serves to sharpen the focus on patient care and wider hospital management strategies. Asset management is one such example – a process which was typically extremely complex and labour intensive. Technologies such as radiofrequency identification (RFID) are being deployed to optimize this process, so that all people and materials can be identified, tracked and traced in real time in an efficient manner. Not only does automation help to drive down operational costs in the long run, but it also frees up clinical staff time, allowing them to focus on direct care provision, as well as offering benefits from an administrative perspective.  

Implications from a cost and project management perspective 

  • Healthcare clients need to factor in digitisation costs covering the design and build of the facility, but also the operation via digitisation of medical equipping, EHR and building management systems, such as Converged Networks, automated logistics and PMS. ‘Connected Health’ technologies and their integration to digital clinical systems are also a key consideration. 
  • Client side, design team, clinical leads, facilities management teams need to be part of the evolution of any healthcare facility from concept stage through to operational commissioning. 
  • Design and construction may prove more complex, but long-term operational savings and long-term sustainable building must be taken into account in terms of cost benefit analysis 
  • Advanced scheduling expertise is essential, as the design, delivery and commissioning of healthcare settings can be significantly complex, with the new digitisation offerings. 
  • Project and cost management of equipping a healthcare facility with all of the digitisation standards requires increased focus by client teams. Where the healthcare facility is a public works project, there is greater risk around the procurement timelines associated. 
  • Regarding medical equipment, it is paramount that User Requirements Specifications (USR) are detailed, and include optimisation of digitisation and compatibility with patient records and systems.
  • Smart hospitals can’t exist in silos – they must form part of a larger smart healthcare ecosystem. 

Ultimately, it is fair to say that the drivers behind the adoption of smart technologies in the healthcare environment can be categorised by the planning and delivery benefits (both construction and operational), which are in the short-term (cost control and efficiency optimisation), and enhanced patient care and experience in the longer term, as healthcare strives for fewer errors, greater precision and better outcomes.  

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