We live in an increasingly connected world, and the medical world is no exception. Just as houses are becoming smart houses, hospitals are becoming smart hospitals, where an Internet-connected mesh binds together building systems, communications systems, sensors, medical devices and digital patient records. By unifying digital connectivity with communications, smart hospitals make it possible to deliver more accurate information and optimized resources to the point of care.
One component of the emerging smart hospital is the omnipresence of surveillance equipment. From voice-controlled digital assistants to security cameras to video chat to smart wearables, the smart hospital is populated with a wide range of devices that can be potentially used to monitor staff, patients, hospital conditions and health care delivery. Here’s a look at four ways in-hospital surveillance systems can be used to improve the quality of medical care.
One important function of hospital surveillance is preventing disease by ensuring that staff comply with safety standards. During a single-day shift, a nurse’s uniform picks up an average of 1,200 bacteria per square inch, a study published in the Journal of Health and Epidemiology found. During a night shift, this rises to nearly 5,800 per square inch. Much of this bacteria still remains after two days.
To reduce this spread of infection, the Centers for Disease Control has published detailed disinfection and sterilization guidelines for hospitals. These encompass 20 major procedural areas, ranging from use of protective equipment to sterilizing surfaces and equipment to keeping items sterile during storage and shipment. Many of the CDC’s procedures are regulated by the health care industry. Hospitals also have their own additional policies and procedures.
These procedures are only effective if they are implemented. However, staff are not always diligent about following procedures strictly. Installing camera systems can be sure everyone stays safe. In addition, smart sanitizer dispensers that monitor how much sanitizer is dispensed and how often staff wash their hands can improve staff compliance with policy and reduce the spread of germs.
Using cameras and sensors to ensure staff compliance with safety policies is just one way hospitals are using surveillance to improve care by boosting staff accountability. When staff are aware that their performance is being monitored, they perform their duties more diligently, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has confirmed.
For example, when staff at Long Island’s North Shore University Hospital were being filmed, compliance with hospital handwashing policies increased from 6.5 percent to 81.6 percent. In another study, Indiana University researchers used surveillance to increase the consistency of colonoscopy quality. When the study compared the performance of gastroenterologists who weren’t aware they were being filmed to ones who were informed they were under surveillance, mean colonoscopy inspection time increased by 49 percent, while mucosal inspection quality increased by 31 percent. Researchers recommended that all relevant hospital procedures be recorded with patient permission as a means to improve quality control.
Another valuable application of surveillance technology is making it easier for providers to deliver health remotely. The U.S. telehealth market will swell to $2.8 billion by 2022, a report by Grand View Research projects. This growth reflects a goal of increasing access to basic health care and promoting early detection and diagnosis to improve health care quality and patient safety.
For example, in 2015, Philips Healthcare’s Telehealth division and Banner Health ran a joint pilot at-home program for patients with critical illnesses. The program resulted in hospitalizations being lowered by 45 percent and costs decreasing 27 percent.
Another application of telehealth is allowing specialists to guide surgeries and pre-surgical and post-surgical procedures from a remote location without needing to be on-site. Bariatric surgery is one specialty benefiting from telehealth. Pre-operative workups can take over six months wherein patients receive nutritional and exercise guidance, lab work and behavioral health assessments. Telebariatrics reduces patient travel time, increasing the likelihood of patients following pre-operational requirements and continuing on to surgery.
Telehealth includes remote patient monitoring, another important benefit of surveillance technology. The growth of medical wearables has vastly expanded healthcare providers’ ability to monitor patients remotely. The medical wearables market is on track to expand from $5.31 billion in 2016 to $12.4 billion by 2021, Markets and Markets projects. The emerging market includes smartwatches, smart clothing, patches and activity monitors.
By deploying wearables and other remote sensing devices in hospitals, hospital employees can monitor patients in real-time from their computers, greatly increasing staff efficiency while improving patient care. Healthcare providers can also monitor patients in their homes, improving real-time monitoring of conditions such as diabetes and making it easier to provide care to elderly patients, patients in remote areas, and patients with disabilities that make it difficult to travel. Wearables can even be used to administer medicine as well as monitor patients. For instance Johnson and Johnson has recently received FDA approval for a patch, OneTouch Via, that enables diabetics to receive insulin doses without using a pen or syringe.
Roy Rasmussen, coauthor of Publishing for Publicity, is a freelance writer who helps select clients write quality content to reach business and technology audiences. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies and bestselling authors. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, business coaching, social media marketing, and career planning.