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The IoT appears to be part of a fundamental shift in healthcare, one that takes us from the traditional volume-based model to a new value-based approach. By embracing the IoT, smarter hospitals can optimize buildings for patient comfort, while also increasing staff efficiency and effectiveness. Recent developments demonstrate that healthcare facilities are at the forefront of the smart building movement.

Above all, healthcare facilities are about healing but “it has been acknowledged that stress caused by hospitalization and hospital care may hinder patient recovery and in some cases, it may cause potentially life-threatening psychological changes. Hospitalization and subsequent treatment and medical care constitute a period of anxiety for the patients and a severe anxiety-causing situation,” explains a comparative study on patient experiences by Evangelia Kotrotsiou et al.

“It is, therefore, imperative that nurses and all other healthcare professionals maintain a channel of continuous communication with the patients, so that stressful factors causing anxiety to patients and making recovery harder can be uncovered and dealt with promptly and efficiently,” the paper continued.

The ability to highlight issues causing them stress is a critical element of improving patient comfort. Smart communication technology allows patients to log issues with hospital staff in much more effective ways than a traditional call button. The issues raised by all patients can be displayed, for example, thereby highlighting common problems such as temperature or noise.

Going one step further, IoT technology is giving patients more control of their environments through indoor navigation tools or direct interaction with lighting, HVAC or entertainment systems, for example. In doing so, patients can create a space that suits them without feeling dependant on the hospital staff. Such developments also save time for staff, by handing over control of certain elements directly to those who need it.

“These types of applications can help patients, visitors, even clinicians easily make their way around on their mobile phone saving everyone time in the process. Mobile applications can also empower patients and visitors to take control of their surroundings. It could be a patient’s TV and room temperature, or food selection and window blinds — what’s important is bringing the comforts of home to the hospital stay,” says Adam Chapman, life sciences and healthcare expert at Honeywell Home and Building Technologies

Staff too can be supported by the smart building, in time-saving applications like those mentioned above but also in patient monitoring through occupant tracking technology, for example. Wearable technology on patients can give them the freedom to move while also allowing nurses and doctors to track their location and condition from anywhere in the facility, or even remotely. The stress levels and general health of staff can also be monitored using similar technology to prevent burnout and ensure that adequate care is being provided.

Alongside patients and staff, hospital equipment is also better cared for with the use of IoT technology. “Cloud-connected applications, including new service and maintenance efforts, permit hospitals to utilize different sensors and endpoints in a building. This can offer a number of benefits, such as providing more detailed, real-time insights into how a piece of equipment is operating,” explains Chapman. “Hospitals can address issues before problems worsen and save money as a result.”

Overall, by supporting staff, improving patient care and monitoring the condition of medical equipment, smart healthcare facilities are benefiting from huge returns. In one hospital, for example, the installation of Operations Performance Management (OPM) from IoT firm ThoughtWire brought about an annual ROI of 900%, saving the facility $2.7 million per year. Their Smart Hospital Suite consists of an early warning system, synchronized operations and a rapid response mode.

“Failure to recognize patient deterioration is a significant issue for acute care hospitals. The use of early warning scores that track abnormal vital signs is a strategy to recognize the unwell patient,” said Alison Fox-Robichaud, MD, FRCPC, at Department of Critical Care in California-based Hamilton Health Sciences. “In collaboration with ThoughtWire, our hospital has harnessed the power of our electronic health record to alert healthcare professionals in a timely manner. This has led to reduced cardiac arrests and unplanned intensive care unit admissions.”

The aim of smart buildings is, in essence, to enhance occupant experiences and improve the operation of the facility itself. They are not limited to the commercial office space that typically dominates these discussions. Other industries, like healthcare, are proving that they can take a leading role in the smart building movement.

“Healthcare is no different from other industries in that the end users served — whether it be a patient, retail shopper or airport traveler — have ever-evolving expectations for experiences within a building, shaped largely by the increased connectivity around us,” says Chapman. “As hospitals continue to become smarter and more connected, they will be using more data and insights that affect daily operations and improve patient experiences — thereby demonstrating the power of IoT.”