Healthcare providers are facing significant challenges in 2022. Decision-makers are seeking to protect their workforces and improve service delivery while simultaneously facing restricted budgets, ever-increasing cybersecurity concerns, and rising employee and patient expectations. In this regard, getting more from their assets is becoming increasingly important with many in the industry struggling to keep track of every piece of equipment across multiple sites when faced with inconsistent approaches to management and tracking.  

Internet of Things devices offer one potential solution.

The art of the possible

 Healthcare providers are currently at a tipping point, facing:  

  • Limited budgets  
  • A workforce constantly in flux  
  • Ever-more demanding patients  
  • Entire ways of working – including operations and processes – in transition from analogue to digital  

Much of this change has been driven by the pandemic, which has delivered, “decades of change in a year and a half [and] highlight[ed] the inertia that has been a significant barrier to widespread adoption of many available solutions,” as a Boston Consulting Group article put it. In other words, it has shown them the art of the possible.  

Yet now, there’s a danger that any gains could be lost. As budgets are redrawn and governments seek to start rebalancing the books, many healthcare providers find themselves at a crossroads: they need to maintain their transformation into fully digital organisations yet still have a large number of legacy systems and equipment. Plus, staff shortages continue to create friction at the very moment when organisations need more support than ever, impacting the delivery of expected levels of care. 

Turning to IoT in healthcare

One area that is in dire need of a solution is asset management. From surgical equipment and life-saving machinery to basic in-patient care (such as beds) and physical spaces, many providers are as much in the facilities management business as they are in providing high-quality care. They’re trying to keep tabs on hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment across multi-site estates - all managed by departments with different ways of working. This is made more complicated by inconsistent approaches to maintenance, storage and lifecycles, which makes keeping track of assets, understanding requirements and allocating appropriate resources hugely complex. 

Solutions exist, however – and not ones that are entirely alien to the healthcare sector. Healthcare has historically been an innovator in keeping track of things; the patient identity bracelet, for example, has been in use for over half a century and was an early application of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). 

Of course, technology has come a long way since then. The demands of modern organisations are such that they are not just looking for ways to identify something quickly, but instead for ways to be able to find, understand the condition of, and redeploy, assets rapidly. That requires capturing asset data and sharing it between the asset in question and analytics platforms that will turn that information into usable intelligence. 

In other words, it requires turning to the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT-based healthcare

The use of IoT in healthcare has been growing steadily over the last few years. From wearables capable of monitoring patients in and out of care settings, to measuring production machinery (whether for personal protective equipment, vaccines or anything in between), this sort of IoT healthcare system is becoming increasingly common across the board. 

This can take unexpected forms, as IoT is also used in things like:  

  • A simple sensor attached to wheelchairs
  • Heart monitors on a ward
  • Insulin pumps for diabetics, or;  
  • Specialist beds

If it’s a physical asset, an IoT sensor can be attached to it to share specific data. For equipment that doesn’t produce data, such as the furniture mentioned above, information may exist simply as location and status; for more specialist assets, the device could send critical patient information directly to clinicians. 

Instead of having a stretched attendant covering a whole ward and reading hastily scribbled notes to understand the treatment, connected devices can help specialists monitor vital signs and provide direction if there are changes. Rather than doctors in one department making decisions based on outdated bed capacity information, they can quickly see where there is space and remotely book it before it is given to someone else. 

Keeping track of IoT devices in healthcare

Of course, simply putting sensors on all the equipment in a hospital isn’t enough. There also needs to be a way of remotely monitoring IoT devices – otherwise, you can’t do anything with the information you’re collecting. One consolidated system monitoring all IoT-connected equipment and assets provides the oversight decision-makers need. It also allows decision-makers to see exactly what condition the entire estate is in and allocate budgets and resources accordingly based on accurate, up-to-date data. Decision-making becomes faster as theoretical projections are replaced with reality, and it becomes easier to keep facilities and assets operating at full capacity and providing the best patient care, which is ultimately every healthcare provider’s objective.

Final thoughts: the benefits of IoT sensors in healthcare

Using IoT solutions for healthcare will help providers take significant steps towards solving several challenges. It can:

  • Free up staff to focus on doing their jobs, whether that’s providing high-quality care, keeping on top of administration or ensuring areas are kept clean, not looking for equipment that works
  • Support the better management of budgets and assets, getting more from investments and ensuring equipment is being fully utilised
  • Help deliver better quality care, with more accurate data provided to clinicians and recorded in patient records, giving medical staff more time to focus on treatment
  • Support the ongoing digital transformation of healthcare by providing standardised, trusted sources of data

IoT applications in healthcare have significant potential. To find out how you might deploy sensors and devices in the right way, and manage them all effectively, look at our introduction to IoT or speak to one of our IoT experts today.