Public Enemy famously sang: “Don’t believe the hype.” And if you’ve been around in healthcare a while you probably have ‘innovation fatigue’. It’s a condition whereby you’ve seen enough ‘game-changing’ technologies to take Public Enemy’s advice. The amount of hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) – of which I’m sure you’ve heard – may lead you to also question whether this new technology is all it’s cracked up to be. But bear with me – because it is. In fact, it has the potential to achieve the seemingly impossible – saving money and improving patient care.
What is it?
At a high level there are three components to IoT. First are sensors – such as RFID labels and barcode tags that contain ID data and, in the case of RFID, can monitor the environment (e.g. temperature). The labels give objects a digital voice and can be fixed to pretty much anything – your equipment, drugs, staff, patients and more. Second, these labels and tags are read by handheld scanners or, with RFID, fixed readers placed inside buildings. The data is sent over the third part of the story – the internet – to the back office. The momentum behind IoT has come as the internet becomes ubiquitous. From 4G mobile coverage to public hot spots, to Wi-Fi in our clinics and offices – we can be pretty much constantly connected. This means that data can be easily recorded and shared to create the connected Internet of Things. So what are the practical applications in clinics and hospitals? There are lots – but here are five important ones.
- Track your resources: Using RFID you can see on a map of your building where your people and key equipment are located. This means you can get the right equipment and the right people to the patient quickly. It also prevents theft as alarms sound if items are moved beyond agreed areas.
- Protect patients: You may want to protect vulnerable patients – e.g. those with dementia. If they wander from your building, your teams can be immediately alerted.
- Comply with legislation: You can scan barcode labels on drugs – into and out of your pharmacy. This ensures you always have the right inventory. What’s more, if you have scanners in place, you’ll be ready to comply with the European Union’s Falsified Medicines Directive that comes into force in 2017.
- Enhance care: Providing your staff with mobile devices will make it easier for them to work with patients. They can scan patients’ wristbands to confirm their ID, review their medical records online and receive alerts – e.g. about any drug allergies – to reduce the scope for error. It will also be easier and quicker to accurately update patient records.
- Track samples: Using barcodes to label and track patient samples across clinics greatly reduces the scope for losing items.
The cost savings come from reducing loss and theft, preventing overstocking and time savings for your teams. But is it easy to move to IoT?
Moving to IoT
Any technological project can appear daunting. But the core components behind IoT are proven in industries from retail to logistics. They are easy to install and a number of software companies have off-the-shelf systems that are accessible in the cloud, for apps like Electronic Healthcare Records, asset tracking and inventory management. With our patients getting older and drugs getting more expensive, while budgets stall, we need to find ways to be more efficient. The great thing about IoT is that those efficiencies come with improvements to patient care. Time to believe the hype? I think so.