Resilient, Sustainable and Adaptable: The Future of Healthcare

By Warren Rosebraugh
June 4, 2021

It is obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has created wholly unprecedented challenges for those in healthcare, and closing down or reducing capacity is not an option. Hospitals must continue to provide essential care while ensuring that patients and staff are protected and the building that houses all this important work being done works efficiently.

After almost a year of solving problem after problem during this pandemic, looking ahead we see a new wave of hospitals emerging, and the way healthcare is delivered is changing. The future is ushering in more sustainable and resilient hospitals that are built and managed through collaboration. 

Resilience has always been top-of-mind for healthcare facility staff and management, because you can never tell when technology will be disrupted, or an emergency will strike. This is especially important now, as the pandemic does not just affect a small community or an isolated subsection of the population. In today’s climate, hospitals need to constantly be prepared for a surplus of patients at any given moment and have the knowledge to mitigate any emergent infrastructure failures.

Creating a resilient workplace

At the most basic level, it is necessary to ensure the facility has uninterrupted access to the right resources, such as electrical power, water, and gas, so it can continue operations in a safe environment for patients and caregivers alike. A power outage or interruption affecting an ICU, surgical theater, procedure room, vaccine storage area, electronically locked drug-dispensing unit or long-term care facility can do more than disrupt care and workflows. It can cause harm and cost lives. 

One major way hospitals today and in the future can better address challenges such as these is to approach power reliability proactively rather than reactively. Facilities should consider evolving and integrating diagnostic and preventive technologies and innovations, such as microgrids, power automation, power events analysis and condition-based maintenance. All of these technologies can help identify and troubleshoot problems and weaknesses before deficiencies interrupt power and jeopardize safety, typically paying for themselves the first time they enable an organization to circumvent a crisis.

One of the most important ways a facility can remain resilient even in the face of change is to allow room for flexibility. Hospitals need to have the ability to do things such as change the pressure in a room, which can help isolate the spread of infection, making the wider hospital safer for staff and other patients.

It is also essential that hospitals have the ability to rapidly scale IT networks and compute power in temporary spaces so workers are able to conduct triages, screenings and build fabricated ICUs with speed, security, and ensured power availability through pre-integrated micro data center solutions. Furthermore, smart ventilation technologies driven by building automation systems are helping to reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections (HCAI) by effectively managing airflows across hospital facilities. 

Creating a resilient network

The modern hospital is also embracing the adoption of digital tools that can provide analytics and control. Facilities can use Internet of Things-connected devices to visualize disruptions, such as a malfunctioning compressor, with optical cameras, microphones, vibration sensors, and other devices that can save a facility manager from physically going to check equipment. 

The IoT can enhance decision-making for all aspects of operations. With data collected about the care process and even the building’s operation, evidence-based decisions can be made to help identify performance issues and improve overall processes. 

For example, facility managers can monitor and improve the reliability and comfort of the hospital’s electrical and environmental systems while also making them more efficient, helping to control costs. This has the added benefit of allowing managers to contribute to patient care by ensuring those systems are always providing comfortable conditions, allowing control at the bedside, and improving patient flow to more accurate diagnoses and proactively treating illnesses. Resilience is also about cybersecurity – as a future-ready manager relies on dashboards to monitor IoT-connected devices for signs of malicious activity and to ensure software is always up to date against potential vulnerabilities. 

In order to build a future-ready healthcare facility, healthcare providers need to be willing to evolve with the times. They need to leverage emerging technologies to provide patients with access to hassle-free healthcare facilities. But there are, of course, vulnerabilities that have to be taken into account. In order to create and maintain resilient and sustainable hospitals, facilities must adopt many connected, intelligent devices, which heightens the possibility of a cybersecurity threat. Healthcare organizations have the highest costs associated with data breaches at $6.45 million, which is 60% higher than the global average.

Preparing for potential threats in advance will not only help protect confidential information but also bring down costs. Furthermore, cybersecurity protects the whole network, which ensures a functioning and integrated system that can improve nurse call & bed management, room status, scheduling, and overall building automation.

In brief, the pandemic has made us rethink what the current healthcare system truly looks like and why hospitals need and should implement new technologies to push towards a more efficient future. Upgrading the healthcare facility of today will be vital in the future and allow for a safer and more resilient experience for both workers and patients in the years to come. 

Warren Rosebraugh is director of solution architects with Schneider Electric.

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