For all the praise that digital technology has been given in the realm of healthcare, only one factor truly matters in the eyes of practicing physicians: Patient safety.
Although cost-cutting efficiencies are important, they mean nothing if medical professionals are not able to save lives and remain true to the Hippocratic Oath they’ve taken. Thankfully, with healthcare IoT being pushed in the right direction, IoT sensors are being connected to patient safety monitoring systems to provide greater capabilities that reduce risks to patients.
IoT technology allows digital tools and healthcare systems to communicate with each other and ensures that patients receive the crucial care they require at all times. They also provide several important advantages to medical staff.
Real-time Vital Sign Monitoring
It used to be that in order to keep track of a patient’s vital signs, a nurse would routinely make the rounds through a hospital ward, manually scribble down each patient’s information, and hopefully, get a chance to enter them into a computer afterwards. This scenario does not consider any human-errors that might occur if the nurse is distracted while noting a patient’s information, or an immediate emergency that forces their attention elsewhere.
Thanks to IoT technology, vital sign monitors can now track and record patient data instantly without any human errors. More importantly, this data can be accessed, shared, and monitored in real-time. With the help of predictive analytics, drops in blood pressure or glucose levels can be identified well before the patient might even be aware and treatment can be adjusted proactively. This saves hospital staff from having to rush to a patient when alarms go off to provide emergency care for an adverse event.
It also allows healthcare professionals to save time by providing an accurate medical history that can be consulted on-the-fly. Trends in a patient’s health can be spotted with this collected data to better identify underlying health problems. When a patient is suffering from unexplained seizures or recurring bouts of dizziness, being able to figure out what is causing them can make all the difference.
Automating Medication Dosages
Administering medication is a task that requires years of training and a keen sense that only comes with experience. When somebody has to track the dosages and combinations of medications for multiple patients at all times, sometimes without even having a full medical history, there is a huge opportunity for medical errors to occur.
Thanks to the implementation of IoT technology, medicine can be administered in a controlled manner while constantly monitoring the patient for any adverse side-effects. Any allergic reactions or adverse effects from mixing medications can be spotted before physical signs become apparent. Dosages can also be controlled and regulated based on changing factors. If a patient develops a fever, an IoT-connected intravenous delivery system can increase the dosage that the patient receives. Or, conversely, reduce the dosage if the patient is stable.
By reducing the possibility of human error when administering medication and proactively monitoring for negative side effects, IoT technology allows smart hospitals to improve patient safety initiatives while reducing both medical errors and critical incidents.
Reducing Hospital-Acquired Infections
Due to the nature of the people that hospitals care for, one of the biggest issues that have plagued public health facilities is hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). These infections are contagions that spread from person to person. They include the flu, strep throat, and C. difficile. Although these bacteria may not inherently be dangerous to healthy individuals, for patients with a compromised immune system, they can be the cause of dangerous complications.
The key to controlling these types of infections from spreading is both simple but often overlooked by staff: Washing one’s hands thoroughly and at regular intervals. Unfortunately, the guidelines established by both the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control have been not always been followed. According to a 2014 report, 89% of healthcare professionals surveyed believed that the numbers that hospitals would report were inaccurate and in reality, significantly lower.
WHO and CDC guidelines state that medical practitioners must wash their hands before and after they touch another person, or after touching an object that could create an opportunity to spread infections. Of the 400 infection specialists surveyed, only 44 percent admitted to actually following the guidelines.
With the help of electronic compliance monitoring, smart hospitals have been able to better track their personnel’s habits and change their hand hygiene behaviors through increased scrutiny. Voice reminders can be programmed into hospital room intercoms whenever someone enters or exits that room, reminding them to wash their hands. Even more impressive, if a patient has C. difficile, which is resistant to hand sanitizer, the sensor can switch the message, reminding them to use soap and water.
Improved hand washing has decreased the spread of HAIs by over 60 percent and helped improve patient safety. There is even the added benefit of automated tracking of hand washing, so hospital staff no longer need to waste time trying to enforce the rules themselves.
IoT technology can also be implemented to aid a smart hospital’s HVAC and central air filtration systems. This can help control the spread of airborne HAIs and keep vulnerable patients safe from additional complications. With the right IoT sensors and software in place, a hospital air filtration system can be automated to isolate specific airways after a triggering event. This can include surgery or a visitation from a patient with a specific set of symptoms.
With the help of IoT technology, preventable infections can be stomped out within healthcare facilities so that patients can remain safe, healthy, and ready for recovery.
Home Monitoring Possibilities
A hospital is a building with finite space. This unfortunate reality has dictated how medical staff must prioritize which patients must remain in the hospital and which are ready to be discharged. With hospital beds being in limited supply, deciding when a patient is ready to return home can sometimes feel like a forced decision.
Thanks to advances in IoT technology, this decision has become a little easier for attending medical staff to make. With a connected IoT network and the help of wearable monitoring devices, hospital personnel can keep a watchful eye on recovering patients while they rest at home. These devices allow smart hospitals to free up beds for other incoming patients and cut down on unnecessary hospital visits. If ever a patient’s condition begins to deteriorate or they feel unsure about their condition, hospital staff have the tools to monitor their condition from anywhere, at all times.
Patients can be called back to the hospital if their vital signs are showing abnormalities or reassured if they are feeling pain that is perfectly normal for their specific recovery process. More importantly, if the patient lives alone, or if their immediate family is out of the house when their health begins declining, an automated system can contact emergency services and family members to inform them right away.
The most important aspect of any technology within a hospital is patient care. When properly implemented, IoT technology can improve patient safety management software and automate tasks that can be overlooked in a busy hospital environment. With a little help from a connected network and artificial intelligence, doctors and nurses can free up more of their resources, and their time. This allows them to focus on the most important tasks at hand while letting them make more informed decisions with better information.
For more on IoT technology and how it can help public health facilities provide greater care, explore the Schneider Electric Exchange community.