Leading the movement towards smarter hospitals

August 21, 2023

Jemma Iles – CEO Series

In 1962 — many years before I was born — a quirky little cartoon series featuring a typical American family first graced our screens.

In each episode, similar to any sitcom at the time, kids, Judy and Elroy, would get up to all sorts of antics, while mum, Jane, dad, George, and housekeeper, Rosie, tried to get through the day and keep life humming along.

Everything about the incredibly popular series (so popular, the reruns were still a staple in my house and most others 20 or 30 years later) lined up with what happened on most programs at the time… except for one thing.

The Jetsons was not set in a neighbourhood just like ours… it was set in the future, in a city so advanced, so smart, that without the cartoon, many of us would not have been able to imagine the technology that might be available to us in years to come.

Clearly built on integrated systems, and data not yet understood at the time, the Jetson’s used AI and automation to send their kids to school in pre-programmed pods, a sentient computer was part of the very short working day for George, and years before the advent of video-based telehealth, the family visited the doctor only on screen.

In the 1970s, Los Angeles started the smart city movement for real, with what was reported to be the first urban big data project. Amsterdam followed in 1994 with the launch of a virtual ‘digital city’, and by 2011, the inaugural Smart City World Expo was held in Barcelona.

Skip ahead another 10 years, or almost 70 years from the Jetsons, and here we are — no flying, self-steering cars, no cities driven largely by AI and automation, no robot in every household taking care of the laundry, the cooking and the kids.

And why not?

Because we haven’t been ready for them yet!

On one side of the story, the technology The Jetsons made seem so simple, is actually highly sophisticated, and though the idea of AI was first coined in the 1950s, taking it from concept to ‘Rosie’, is a long and intense journey.

That said, a big part of that journey has actually now already been completed, and though not common in every household, robots and androids are well on the way, autonomous vehicles have been in trials for years, and as of early 2023, AI is even writing most of your kids’ school projects (much to the dismay of teachers!).

The other side of that story is whether we, as people, are ready yet to accept and explore that level of change.

Change can be a terrifying thing. Giving over any level of control can be equally terrifying. And when we talk about aspects of that technology like AI and like automation, we are talking about both of those – change and control.

But change — acceptance and openness to innovation — is also what keeps us moving, evolving and growing. It is what reduces the pollutants we pump into the air and water every day, improves the safety of global workers, introduces better ways to communicate and stay connected, and it offers the opportunity to streamline our critical services — like healthcare — to decrease the burden of over-demand and optimise the quality of life and longevity of everyone.

Change is progress.

Smart cities, smart hospitals are coming, and we need to be ready to embrace the progress and the benefits they have to offer.

What Is A Smart Hospital?

Like ‘smart city’, the term ‘smart hospital’ started circulating many years, even decades ago.

And just the same as smart cities, the idea behind it has evolved over time as we have further advanced what is technologically possible.

Where once — not too long ago, in fact — smart hospitals were just those that had started to digitalise previously manual tasks, now the definition extends a lot further.

A smart hospital, according to Intel, is one that deploys AI, IoT, 5G networks and other technological advances from edge cloud, to seamlessly coordinate and align operations for accelerated and enhanced patient care.

Bit of a mouthful isn’t it?

At Olinqua, our slightly more accessible definition is simply that a smart hospital is one built on integration, intelligent automation and communication.

The integration element of the equation is the bringing together — the connection — of all systems, devices and people. This allows comprehensive data, capable of delivering a complete picture, to flow freely, to be collated, interpreted and used, whether by people, or by other technology.

Intelligent automation is where and how that data can be used. In much existing automation, the ‘intelligent’ element isn’t present.

Doors slide open, lights flick on, devices come to life at a set time of the day — in these instances, no decision is being made, the command is simply programmed as a response to the stimuli.

Intelligence in automation takes it up a notch — many notches. With the data that has been ingested and interpreted through integration, systems using AI can analyse what they know, make decisions and take the right action, in a similar way people can. The difference is, studies already show us machines — when presented with the same data as humans — will make fewer mistakes than people.

By introducing intelligent automation combined with integration, we reduce errors and improve accuracy.

Finally, communication is two-fold; first, it is that ability for those connected devices to talk to each other, to collaborate, to take that decision and turn it into real action. Second, it is the use of those same systems to enable people to connect to technology and to each other to communicate instantly, securely and with minimal restriction.

Combined, these three are the foundation for truly smart hospitals — much smarter than those focused only on digitising manual tasks.

Smarter hospitals are not just the way of the future, they are possible now and should be a key focus of any hospital leader.

We can already integrate hospital technology — even when it comes from different vendors. We can already use the data it collates to automate decisions, and we can already benefit from advanced communication for people and machines.

The journey to get here has been a long one, and absolutely, there are more steps — countless steps — still to be taken as we continue to learn and advance. But the only thing really stopping us from taking full advantage of what is already in front of us, what is available and ready to help us, is that ever-present fear of change; the safety and security we feel in doing things in familiar ways.

Sometimes when it comes to change, we are the biggest thing standing in our way.

Embracing Innovation For Smarter Hospitals

My career has been built on innovation — on encouraging exploration of new and different ways of approaching things, to deliver positive change and lasting value.

Perhaps, because of that ‘training’, that conditioning to see innovation inherently as a positive, I’m a little biased when it comes to the concept in general.

But I have also seen what can be achieved.

I have seen tech-assisted optimisation of processes reduce the flow of people visiting emergency departments.

I have seen employee culture and morale thrive under new approaches, again, supported by purpose-built tech tools.

And here at Olinqua, I have seen automated hospital alarm systems with sub-second response times make so much difference to the lives of staff and patients alike.

As a leader of a business, and within our industry, I see my role less as directing the development of technology and more as helping other leaders to embrace it and make the most of it, as I have.

An innovation culture in an organisation starts right at the top, and we can’t ever expect advances, changes, improvements to be accepted right down to the bottom levels, if leaders don’t embrace them and champion them first.

Building that culture starts with you. It starts with being open, removing ‘that’s the way we’ve always done things’ from your vocabulary, and bringing people along for that journey.

Change can be so exciting — being a part of it, of bringing it to life, of inventing it, can be one of the most rewarding things you and your teams will ever do. I encourage you to join the movement towards smarter hospitals!

Want to know more about our Intelligent Automation Platform? Reach out to our team.