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Healthcare management could do with some help from Internet of Things. (Picture is for illustrative purposes only.) Image Credit: Agency

While Brexit continues to make the headlines, one of the central themes of last week’s UK general election was the state of the country’s overworked and underfunded National Health Service, with waiting lists for routine operations now running at an all-time high.

Numerous reasons were put forward for the malaise, but it is an inescapable fact that rampant inefficiencies plague healthcare systems, both public and private, the world over, with a wide range of political, economic, social, cultural, technological, legal, and experiential challenges adding to an already complex mix.

Increasing market pressures and sweeping regulations, together with rapid changes in the general populace and its overall wellbeing, are calling for the healthcare industry to take action in innovative ways to meet expectations, deliver value, and improve operational efficiency.

There is a cure

Emerging technologies will play a key role in enabling these goals, and perhaps none more so than the Internet of Things (IoT). Indeed, IoT holds unparalleled potential to empower healthcare providers in their operational decision making.

The aggregation and integration of data through IoT-enabled platforms provides a new foundation for gaining insights into hospital operations, asset management, and human resources management, enabling hospitals to optimize their utilization of assets and reduce operational costs while improving patient safety and quality of care.

We are seeing groundbreaking IoT applications centered on barcoding and RFID technologies for logistics functions, such as building management (e.g., temperature and humidity monitoring) and the monitoring and tracking of a variety of physical assets (e.g., hospital beds, medical equipment, drug containers, lab samples, imaging devices, and other high-value items).

Hands on tracking

IoT platforms for hospital asset monitoring and tracking help improve inventory management by, for example, reducing out-of-stock incidents and identifying inventories to be refurbished, thus enabling just-in-time delivery across the hospital. This reduces the need for local storage, and increasing supply chain reliability and operational efficiency overall.

Sensor-based track-and-trace systems can also help to improve operational efficiency by saving clinicians time locating medical equipment and supplies. This will come as an extremely valuable benefit that delivers sequential improvements in staff satisfaction, the timeliness of care, and patient safety.

Complementing these logistics functions, we are also increasingly seeing complex medical devices - such as imaging machines, monitoring systems, and diagnostic equipment - being designed with IoT and analytic capabilities built in to provide proactive alerts for component failure and predictive maintenance.

But the focus is not solely on the hospitals themselves. Indeed, as healthcare organizations become increasingly digital, the role that patients play in their own healthcare is transforming dramatically. Thanks to the wonders of IoT, patients are becoming true partners with their care managers and providers.

As the incorporation of IoT-enabled sensors into a diverse range of health monitoring devices (portable, wearable, implantable, ingestible) and connected consumer devices (smartphones, personal wellness wearables, fitness trackers, etc.) increases at a rapid rate, patients are now not only able to retrieve health-related information for their own benefit, but also collect, measure, and share increasingly relevant data with the healthcare system on their own.

Data carriers

This regular stream of personalized, health-relevant patient-generated data is becoming an essential source of valuable information for clinical decision making and driving the new trend of “Bring Your Own Data” across the healthcare industry.

Data that is “brought” by the patients themselves is increasingly being used by care-givers as a complementary source of information on patients through all stages of their care. And it has been proven that such an approach supports the early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and long-term management of diseases.

Combined with rapidly evolving IoT platforms and analytic systems, IoT has the potential to be a catalyst of major transformation in hospital care, improving operational efficiency, patient safety, and staff satisfaction through the optimization of hospital operations. And with lifestyle-related diseases and healthcare costs on the rise, all healthcare stakeholders should be motivated to harness patient-generated data for its undoubted preventive value.

Jyoti Lalchandani is Group Vice-President and regional Managing Director at IDC.