For most of its history, the Internet has used millions of networked computers to connect people and share information. While the Internet still serves this purpose, advancements in technology are taking the Internet beyond our desktop and mobile devices and into a whole host of things. From useful home appliances to wireless underwear, physical objects are being fitted with wireless antennas that allow users to track and control them from anywhere in the world.
One area where the Internet of Things (IoT) is finding a niche is the healthcare industry.
Doctors and clinicians are constantly on the lookout for ways to use technology to improve the quality of care for their patients. GE Healthcare has developed a system called AgileTrac that uses wireless proximity sensing technology to track hospital equipment, staff and patients.
Hospitals using AgileTrac technology have already seen significant increases in efficiency and reductions in expenses.
Britta Kons from GE Healthcare told me more about AgileTrac and how the Internet of Things is transforming healthcare.
From patient admission to discharge, can you guide us through a patient’s stay at a hospital and explain some of the ways AgileTrac will play a role?
Instead of thinking about admit to discharge, let’s look at discharge to admit. This might seem to be a bit backwards, but “empty bed” or “dead bed” time is the perfect example of operational automation at work.
In a recent study we conducted, which I think is highly representative of many hospitals, there were 10 steps from the time a patient discharge was ordered until the time that bed was occupied with the next patient. And in each of those steps, some sort of manual intervention was required.
The discharge ordered needed to be entered in the EMR, environmental services needed to be notified of the room to be turned over, someone needed to be notified that the room had been cleaned, and then someone needed to alert, say, the Emergency Department that the bed was ready.
From there, a patient had to be assigned and someone had to notify transport to bring the next patient to the room. On average that process took about four and a half hours. For more than four and a half hours of a 24-hour day, that bed was completely un-utilized.
We could automate that process with location-based events and reduce that time by 75 percent. That makes the difference of getting someone into a bed at the beginning of the day versus the end of the day.
One of the major concerns of radio-frequency identification, IoT and, incidentally, healthcare data, is security. What steps are GE taking to ensure that AgileTrac is safe and secure so patients won’t have to worry about their private health data being compromised?
This is an incredibly important point for all GE and GE Healthcare software and technology. However, AgileTrac collects very little patient data. We are not a clinical system, but an operational solution. That said, the information we do have is securely stored either within hospital servers, or in secure cloud environments requiring secure access.
What are some other challenges you are facing in clinics adopting AgileTrac?
I don’t think it’s a hurdle of adopting AgileTrac. AgileTrac is a powerful enabling technology, but undertaking a true operational transformation requires evaluating and optimizing three core levels: assets, patient flow and hospital workforce. Tackling challenges with utilization, throughput, lost productivity and creeping costs requires a commitment to look at all three elements holistically, to understand their interdependencies.
Poor asset availability might drive lower patient throughput. Improved patient throughput might create an opportunity to rethink the distribution of critical assets or the staffing of your workforce. The primary hurdle requires a shift in thinking to operate differently, to look at automation and change management as a necessity rather than an encumbrance.
And of course, there must be the proper governance and executive support to ensure that it’s the right changes for the organization.
Most people associate IoT with automated home appliances and smart cars. Why will this type of connectivity be so vital when it comes to healthcare?
There are literally billions of potential messages being sent from devices in a typical hospital every year. For example, an average hospital will dispense soap or sanitizer tens of thousands of times per week. Can we collect that number and compare it to the number of patient-staff interactions over that same time period, and what can that tell us about hand washing compliance?
A typical real-time location enabled tag that’s tracking assets, patients, or staff will ping its location roughly every 10 to 15 seconds — that’s 2 million times a day.
Now imagine if there were thousands of those tags in the hospital at any given time, pinging not only their location, but helping drive insights in relation to all the other location pings. What we can pull from systems like the ADT and EHR to give us insights into equipment utilization, bed turns or length of stay?
An imaging device can tell us what type of scan took place, how long that scan took, how long it took in comparison to similar types of scans, how often that device is active or idle, by day, week, month, etc. All of these examples give us an unbelievable amount of insight into the behavior of staff, the utilization of critical hospital assets and the hospital’s overall operational flow.
Images courtesy of GE Healthcare.
Ever since he had an atresia surgically repaired at age five, Scott has been fascinated with the field of medical science. Combining his love of consumer electronics and technology with medicine, he studied biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California and graduated in 2009. By day, Scott is a Technical Services Engineer at St. Jude Medical, but moonlights as a senior editor at Medgadget, a leading medical technology and innovation blog. Scott is always searching for the next big thing in medical technology and digital health and looks forward to sharing these life-transforming innovations with iQ by Intel’s audience.