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The Digitized, Cloud-Dependent Smart Hospitals of the Future


10% of hospitals will take steps towards becoming smart hospitals by 2025.

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Research firm Frost & Sullivan released a new report this week that predicts 10% of hospitals will become, or take steps towards becoming, “smart hospitals” by 2025. Digitized, interconnected, and reliant on analytics and automation, these smart hospitals will be able to constantly improve patient care.

Siddharth Shah, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan, told Healthcare Analytics News™ that the group looks at smart hospitals in two categories: "greenfields", which are entirely new or rehabbed facilities built specifically with the intent of being a smart hospital, or "brownfields", which are older hospitals that are continually updated to be smarter.

He gave Humber River Hospital in Ontario, Canada, as an example of a greenfield. One of the first fully digital hospitals in North America, it employs a patient “command center” to provide a constant overview of all patients in the facility—like an air traffic control tower, he said. Also, they use a completely automated pharmacy system.

Johns Hopkins in Baltimore is a brownfield: an older institution that also employs a “command center” and continually works to digitize and connect its systems.

To get there, hospitals will have to put their faith in the cloud. The Frost & Sullivan report estimates that the combined analytics and cloud computing market for healthcare will be $11 billion next year.

“You need that accessibility across the system. One center where all of these records are available, and all of it ties together, analytics are performed, and insight is generated,” Shah said. “For a health system, the cloud becomes imperative.”

It’s no longer sufficient, Shah said, that hospitals simply treat patients within their walls and lose track of them after discharge. Remote monitoring and telehealth both allow them to continually track patient progress in hopes of producing better outcomes and reducing readmissions. The analyst envisioned a future where a doctor observes and updates treatment regimens for his surgery patients while in another country attending a conference. “Those are technologies that depend on the cloud,” he said.

Of course, if every element of a health system is digitized inside and out, cybersecurity becomes a major concern. There will be more access points for hackers, and a truly smart hospital would have smart systems throughout, including those that aren’t healthcare specific: administrative systems and operational networks like heating and even plumbing are becoming digitized.

While HL7 standards and HIPAA regulations both encourage cybersecurity, they don’t necessarily apply to non-health-related devices and networks that may exist in a hospital. He encourages hospitals to involve their own IT teams in procurement of any type of connected technology for the facility.

Cybersecurity concerns used to keep health systems off of the cloud, Shah said, but that is changing.

“So far up until last year, hospitals were more comfortable hosting all of their data on their own premises and they wouldn’t trust a third-party provider for that,” he said. But 2017 was a record year for data breaches and ransomware attacks, causing hospital administrators to warm to the idea that those outside vendors may have a better grip on data security than they do.

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