By: Venkatraman Swaminathan, Vice President, IT Divison, Schneider Electric
The environment of an “always on” infrastructure impacts the ability of a healthcare facility to adapt to marketplace shifts and to accommodate the higher service level expectations of patients. With the increase in digital and connected health technologies, healthcare facilities now demand even greater system reliability and availability to maintain operational efficiency and ensure patient health and satisfaction.
For many healthcare facilities, continued growth and profitability will depend upon a realignment of infrastructure to support new technologies that require high availability of systems. Here’s a look at four technologies that are making a big impact on today’s modern healthcare facility.
Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
An avalanche of electronic patient data comes into hospitals and other healthcare facilities on a daily basis– registrations, examination reports, test results, images, and billing are just a few examples. Managing this data stream becomes more and more critical to a hospital’s reputation.
Electronic medical records make it essential for medical staff to have consistent, quick access to the IT system and also require reliable power for backup procedures and archiving. The rack systems, security, IT management software, and power and cooling within the data center that protect the servers and storage, are critical elements in supporting the medical records system uptime.
The vulnerabilities of hospitals to outages increases exponentially, especially if backup plans are weak and lack the necessary infrastructure recovery measures. The situation gets magnified during a natural disaster as the need for medical services increases as casualties from the surrounding area flood to the hospital. While a majority of hospitals are required to have some type of emergency backup power like a generator, it’s also important to have built in critical power protection like an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system that can provide layered system protection for EMRs and other mission critical applications.
More and more self-help electronic devices are making their way into hospital and clinic waiting rooms. These self-service kiosk strategies look to run healthcare more like the airlines or leading online retailers and such devices are utilized for applications such as patient check-in, consent forms, co-pay collection, facility navigation, secure enrollments, scheduling, and pre-registration.
Rather than a patient having to visit a laboratory to have blood drawn, or to receive a shot, a mobile lab can serve the patient within the care room when needed. Another self-service growth area, tele-consultation, provides individuals requiring services with the ability to work with physician’s assistants via video conferencing tools. This allows for much more rapid and less costly diagnosis of lower severity conditions like the common cold or allergies.
Patients are encouraging providers to make more self- service options available for transacting healthcare-related tasks such as scheduling appointments, paying bills and filling out or updating forms. But as patients become more reliant on self-help kiosks, these new self-service tools will require the same high-availability levels as the more traditional core healthcare systems. With bill-payment kiosks, for example, if power is lost during the process, it can easily lead to a variety of problems including unconfirmed payments or the transaction’s not being submitted. One approach, from a backup and recovery perspective, is to integrate a portable uninterruptible power supply (UPS) as a source of power protection. In such a scenario, the UPS’s power would enable the kiosk user to finish his or her transaction prior to the battery’s running out.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Real- time Location Systems (RTLS)
These technologies are now being deployed to ensure the safety and security of the most vulnerable patients, such as infants, the elderly, and those with mental illness. These technologies provide healthcare facilities with the ability to identify, locate, track, and monitor patients, visitors, staff, assets, and equipment. Value is maximized for both patients and the healthcare facility when this technology is integrated with the facility’s security, energy, building and power solutions.
RFID helps hospitals identify objects, locations, and people through the remote use of radio waves. Simple RFID devices use an identification system, such as serial numbers, to track and manage objects. Other more sophisticated RFID systems, such as the kind used in operating systems, have built-in sensors that communicate data on location for identification purposes and on environmental conditions. RTLS is used to identify and track the location of objects and people in real time, typically within a building or other contained area. The RTLS physical layer usually consists of some form of radio frequency, but some systems use optical (infrared) or acoustic (ultrasound) technology instead of or in addition to radio frequency. RTLS provides real-time tracking of people and physical assets with more precision, higher granularity, and a greater level of accuracy than RFID or other identification systems.
The application of RFID and RTLS technologies benefit hospital profitability and patient care in several ways, including:
- Improving patient and staff safety—RFID and RTLS help prevent patient elopement (e.g., a patient who wanders off unnoticed) through integration with access control, video surveillance, and other electronic security and building technology. Not only are patients and staff safer, but in many cases facilities are also realizing lower insurance costs. Typical RFID and RTLS applications include access control, emergency response, infant protection, patient management, and enhanced video surveillance.
- Enhancing quality of care—Facilities can also streamline and improve the quality of patient care by increasing efficiencies through reduced time and costs spent in locating assets, equipment, patients, and staff. Hospitals can implement RFID and RTLS applications for asset and equipment tracking and utilization, inventory and laundry management, and loss prevention. In fact, according to a study by Transparency Market Research, of all the applications where RFID is used in a healthcare setting, tracking medical hospital equipment accounts for the largest revenue generating application.
- Reducing financial waste—With RFID and RTLS, organizations experience less theft and equipment hoarding, as well as reduced rental and late return fees for important hospital equipment. Improved asset and equipment visibility leads to improved utilization and often results in a ROI of less than a year, especially for the RTLS technology. Applications in this area include anti-counterfeiting, product authorization, and bed and operating room management.
As in the case of EMR systems, it’s important for hospitals to ensure these types of critical systems are protected in the event of a system failure or power outage to keep operations running as usual, maintain a high service level and ensure patient and staff safety.
Although robotic technologies have been applied to the healthcare industry for a number of years, they represent a significant new growth area for enhanced services. According to market intelligence firm, Tractica, revenues for surgical, rehabilitation and hospital robots will grow $1.7 bn to $2.8 bn by 2021.
From personal assistant robots that help care for patients to robotic surgical assistants which allow surgeons to perform procedures from a remote location, medical robots are transforming the face of healthcare. Here a four major ways robotics technology bring value to healthcare organizations:
- Reduction in labor costs – On the logistics side (e.g., assembling proper medications for a particular patient) robots can replace specific human activities.
- Increasing independence and social participation of vulnerable people – This can lead to both social and economic benefits. An example is the ability of handicapped or elderly persons to feed themselves in an increasingly independent manner through the assistance of a robot.
- Increasing the quality of care – Robots can outperform humans when it comes to executing certain repeat and high precision actions (e.g., automated bone cutters for hip surgery).
- Performing activities that cannot be performed by humans – In cases where human limitations are an issue due to size or precision requirements, robots can outperform human surgeons. An example would be micro capsules for taking internal body tissue samples.
In all cases, the “food” that keeps the robotics equipment alive and running comes down to the power infrastructure. Whether robots are directly powered from outlets or from recharging devices that enable the extension of robot battery life, the stability of the power supply is critical.
The impact of technology on healthcare facilities will continue to evolve – and quickly. As such, healthcare organizations will need to consider how their current infrastructure will evolve to support a more intelligent, connected and resilient infrastructure.