Building a Smart Hospital that Stays Smart Well into the Future

touch screen smart hospital

The designers of the new hospital tower are being asked to not only build a state-of-the-art health care facility that satisfies the needs of patients, clinicians and staff – but to also predict the future. The latest technological advancement today will likely be quite different in 2016, when the building is estimated to be finished. Think iPad. Did you have one four years ago?

Sandra Armstrong, Chief Information Officer at the UConn Health Center on March 12, 2012. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Center Photo)
Sandra Armstrong, Chief Information Officer

“We need to design an IT infrastructure that is extremely flexible so that regardless of what comes along in the next 10, 15, 20 years the infrastructure is already there and we can adopt the new technology,” explains Sandra Armstrong, chief information officer at the UConn Health Center.

“It’s like building an eight-lane highway. You might not need it now but if you grow later, you are prepared, you’re already there,” says Jonathan Carroll, assistant vice president of information.

Jonathan Carroll, Assistant Vice President of Enterprise IT Operations at the UConn Health Center on March 8, 2012. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Center Photo)
Jonathan Carroll, Assistant Vice President of Enterprise IT

To better prepare for the future, the IT department has held numerous “technology visioning” meetings involving dozens of nurses, physicians and other clinicians. “We’re not selecting technology just for the sake of technology,” explains Armstrong. “The greatest technology in the world won’t be helpful if it doesn’t fully integrate with the workflow of our clinicians to help them work more effectively and improve quality of care.”

Armstrong views the project as a great opportunity, especially following years of trying to retrofit new technology into the current hospital building which is more than 30 years old.

Making sure the infrastructure — what’s going on behind the walls and ceilings — is adaptable is one major challenge. Making “just in time” decisions about the actual devices is another.

“Since we’re talking four years from now when the building is done, we are not going to make any decisions about specific types of equipment until right before we move into the hospital,” says Armstrong.

“Because who knows how smart phones, tablets and computer technology will evolve in the coming years?”

Even though final decisions are yet to come, Armstrong and her team have been peering into their crystal balls and can offer some predictions on what technology may be in store for the new and renovated buildings.

‘Smart’ Patient Rooms

The goal for patient rooms is to make them more patient-centered, improving the patient experience by helping patients take a more active role in their own health care.

touch screen smart hospital

For instance, these “smart rooms” will be equipped with a bedside console that will potentially enable the patient to do everything from controlling the room’s lighting to speaking directly with a nurse when needed.

On the wall in front of their bed will be a large, flat screen monitor that will not only offer entertainment (TV, video games, internet), but also patient education sites to learn more about a health condition or a pending procedure. They will also be able to access dietary services and order their evening meal. Appointments and reminders will automatically be displayed at the beginning of the day so they know their MRI is scheduled for 10 a.m. and rehab at 1 p.m.

The rooms may also be equipped with video conferencing so a patient can visually interact with family and friends anywhere in the world. It will also allow the physician to consult with outside specialists, conduct “rounds” from a patient room, and stream video into a medical school classroom where students can ask questions. The operating rooms will have the same capabilities and offer greater opportunities for teaching residents and medical students.

‘Smart’ Clinicians and Nurses

Armstrong says the goal for clinicians is to ensure the information they need is immediately available, when and where they need it.

Instead of having multiple devices – phone, pager, beeper, nurse call system – caregivers will have just one and it will do everything. It will most likely be hands-free and could be attached to clothing, worn around the neck, or carried in a pocket.

If a patient’s vital signs change, an alert will be passed directly to the patient’s caregiver through this device – reducing time spent watching monitors. If the primary caregiver doesn’t respond, the system will reroute to the back-up providers until someone answers the alert.

The caregivers will likely have sensors in their identification badges so when they enter a patient room, their name and title may appear on the patient’s TV monitor. There will also be a small computer monitor next the patient’s bedside which will be voice-activated to increase efficiency (keyboarding will be cut to a minimum).

Based on the caregiver’s badge, the computer will generate information pertinent to them. For instance, a nurse will be able to view the patient’s vital signs and a doctor could call-up the latest lab results. The images on the small screen can be transferred to the big screen so the patient can also see his latest x-ray.

Streamlining Technology

The Health Center will eventually have a fully-integrated electronic medical record system. So instead of a number of different clinical systems, there will be just one large integrated platform.

Armstrong says within 18 months or so, the Health Center should be connected to Connecticut’s Health Information Exchange in which patient data is shared among regional hospitals. Physicians will be able to access information about their patient’s medical history even if they received treatments at different institutions, enhancing quality of care and reducing duplicate tests and treatments.

smart hospital touch screen kiosk

Other innovative technology under consideration for the new hospital:

Kiosks: Patients who arrive for an elective procedure or medical appointment will be able to register themselves at a kiosk. Patients could also receive directions to the department or procedure center they are visiting.

Location tracking devices: Patients could be tagged with a sensor device so caregivers and family members know if the patient is in their room or out of the room getting an MRI, for example.

Electronic status boards: These displays in waiting areas would allow families to track when their loved one is out of the OR and in the recovery room.

Technology that travels: The technology can’t stop at the new hospital doors. Some aspects will have to be incorporated into the new ambulatory care center and the existing hospital building, too.

Charging stations: From labs to lounges, the increased dependence on devices will also require charging stations in multiple locations throughout the campus.

Behind-the-Scenes: No matter how exciting the new technology, it won’t matter if the building’s infrastructure can’t handle it. Carroll and his crew have been designing back-end network rooms on each floor that are correctly cooled, properly powered and highly secure. But at the same time, they’ll need to hide the wires and the cables to make sure the hospital is warm and welcoming.

These changes won’t happen all at once. Carroll says that, where appropriate, some aspects of the technology will be gradually phased in before the new patient tower opens for business. “There is going to be a lot involved with just moving to a new building and navigating patients around that. We want to ensure the new technology is transparent and facilitates a smooth opening day.”

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