What is a smart hospital?
In 2021, then-health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced a draft strategy titled Data Saves Lives: Reshaping health and social care with data. He explained the strategy as one that “seeks to put people in control of their own data” and “improve the commissioning and planning of services”, which will greatly impact the future of both the digital and physical infrastructure of the NHS.
One aspect of this strategy that has significant potential to do so is the development of Smart Hospitals, which will use digital interoperability to redesign traditional hospital processes, systems and infrastructures. Especially while the NHS is desperately seeking to recover from the backlog effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, these smart systems could improve capacity issues and reduce staff burnout by creating intelligently optimised patient journeys.
We’re already seeing the benefits of digital development and scientific advancements in healthcare, including robotic doctors, virtual reality learning, and precision medicine. Now is the time to build on these with more AI innovation and improve the industry as a whole.
The draft strategy includes a case study on University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) technological innovation including examples of ‘artificial intelligence powered skin cancer pathway, which has helped 40% of patients avoid the need for a hospital appointments’ and a ‘5G connection between community intermediate care and acute hospital teams, including digital stethoscopes, ECG and high-resolution video, to allow comprehensive assessments to be carried out without the need to convey patients to hospital’.
Many NHS Trusts we partner with are embracing the implementation of technology for smart access, smart diagnostics and smart support, highlighting the possibilities for future hospitals. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) has joined the Smart Hospital Alliance (SHA), with a focus on driving the development of innovation in digital health, including mixed reality, augmented intelligence and data technologies, to enhance service delivery and empower patients, communities and staff.
Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (KCH) are also utilising AI to reduce inbound calls and admin burdens on their staff, by easily implementing a virtual assistant on their website that can be constantly curated by supplier and Trust staff. This chatbot tech makes it easy for patients to interact virtually with the hospital, 24 hours a day, with reliable and consistent automated responses in a friendly, conversational style. In just 3 months, 4998 patient FAQ conversations occurred, diverting around 249 hours potential call time away from stretched admin teams (based on 3 minutes per call).
Interoperability is key
One of the crucial elements of smart hospitals, is the opportunity to bring data together from across the country, to be gathered and shared in one central hub. Developing a single interoperability platform to connect all the systems within a hospital could also transform every aspect of the way they are run, from handling medicines to admitting patients, making day to day processes smoother and more efficient for all involved. Outside hospital walls, these platforms could also improve the lives of patients with long term conditions or diseases by easily integrating their at home wearables and other devices with hospital systems for seamless remote monitoring.
The importance of integration
Ensuring any tech implementations can ‘speak’ to each other, so to say, is vital for preventing another version of the systems currently in place, which causes siloed data and disjointed services from one organisation to another. By creating systems that can share the huge quantities of data that is available between departments, deeper insights can be discovered and more importantly, improved patient outcomes.
Personalised patient journeys
Smart hospitals will use digitised patient flow to streamline processes, reducing the intense admin burdens on NHS staff, which has been even more in the current climate due to backlog and capacity pressures. Integration between platforms and devices will also allow more ‘on demand’ analytics, so staff can evaluate patients in real time, rather than delaying progress with siloed systems.
Furthermore, if the elderly population maintains it’s current growth at pace there will be more and more demand for healthcare services in the future, so smart, personalised journeys using technology that supports efficiency will help to ensure they do not become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of patients, while also improving patient experience and offering the best possible care.
Hospitals without walls
Remote monitoring uses smart technology to monitor patients outside of a traditional care setting, transforming the patient experience and improving outcomes. Symptom trackers, wearable devices, patient initiated follow ups, and video consultations empower patients to take a holistic view of their health, recover comfortably at home, and self-manage their conditions whilst alerting their care teams to any changes or deterioration. With the latest stats showing 9.5M people living in the UK who were born elsewhere, instant translation for virtual care and digital communications is a vital component of remote monitoring, to enable patients for whom English is a second language to stay connected with their care teams.
Virtual care platforms built specifically for healthcare are also essential to ensuring patients can still access support and care outside of hospital walls. Features such as screen-share to allow things like X-rays to be shown and discussed, and other accessibility tools such as ‘read aloud’ for those with vision impairment will ensure that care is not compromised in these circumstances.
48 new hospitals by 2030
With the Government’s commitment to build 48 new hospitals by 2030 (with £3.7 billion committed so far), now is the time to strive for the art of the possible and drive transformation with the new advancements in technology. This new hospital programme will have transformational effects on the fundamentals of health and social care infrastructure, and also give staff and patients access to exciting new technology that will benefit them on a day to day basis. Natalie Forrest, Senior Responsible Officer of the New Hospital Programme has described her goal ‘to foster an ecosystem that owns, learns from and improves healthcare design’, leading to better patient-centric care options.
It’s important to remember that tech is being developed to help, but people will always be at the centre of healthcare, whether we’re thinking about the patients themselves or the medical staff who care for them. Going forward the NHS Smart Hospital planning needs to put patients and staff at the forefront, and focus on an integrated future for entire hospital systems, pathway redesigns with digital development at its heart, taking advantage of new technologies such as automation and remote monitoring.
Healthcare Communications works with 350 NHS hospitals to personalise the healthcare journey from referral to discharge and transform patients lives. We have developed the tools needed to accelerate patient empowerment through engagement solutions such as video consultations, appointment management platforms, patient self-scheduling, PIFU, personal portals, patient experience surveys, and virtual assistants/chatbots. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.