What is a smart hospital?

Author: Rose de Fremery

The COVID-19 pandemic helped to accelerate the digital evolution of healthcare. Now, as hospital systems are looking for ways to build internal agility and improve patient care, they are increasingly leveraging the benefits of the “smart hospital” model. Here's how this advanced approach—which places a special emphasis on using enterprise intelligence sourced from near-real-time analytics to elevate the patient experience—will enable the future of health care delivery.

What is a smart hospital?

The hospitals of the future will need to operate with greater digital intelligence, leveraging data insights in seamless ways to support evolving care delivery models and drive operational efficiency. Technologies that deploy artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), internet of medical things (IoMT), computer vision, and extended reality (AR/VR/XR) make hospitals “smarter” when they deliver actionable information and automation across the ecosystem. But those technologies need a neural network to do all of that in a truly interoperable, real-time way. Because “smart” also needs to be fast, consistent, and scalable. And to achieve that, you have to start with infrastructure. 

What does a smart hospital do?

When a patient is hospitalized, it's essential to provide them with the highest standard of care and reduce any barriers or delays that could affect recovery. A smart hospital will operate on data-driven insights that help healthcare professionals make better decisions faster. At an advanced level, a connected hospital may also tap augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and the internet of things (IoT) for more innovative use cases such as clinical team training, presurgical planning, wireless patient monitoring, and real-time asset tracking.  

But insights delivered intuitively at the point of care are the most critically needed. 

Analytics capabilities can be particularly crucial to the success of a smart hospital in both the near and long term. Without access to the right data analytics, hospitals can struggle to act on the information they have in a timely manner.  According to the Future of Health Index 2022 Report from Philips, 55% of staff feel overwhelmed by the amount of data they have to interpret. In addition, 51% of healthcare leaders report that “data silos” hinder their ability to effectively leverage statistical patient information.

This bottleneck can prevent hospitals from delivering timely care at the scale required. In addition, given the current industry-wide challenge with retaining experienced healthcare professionals2, it is urgent to streamline clinical workflows and ease the burden for current hospital staff. Efficient data management is also important preparation for the future of healthcare technology, in which healthcare delivery will take place in a broad range of contexts both within and without hospital settings—and hospitals will need to be able to securely share data with other healthcare organizations.

What are the benefits of a smart hospital?

Hospitals enabled with Enterprise Intelligence can apply AI to patient data in their electronic health records systems as well as leverage info from wearables such as fitness trackers and smart watches, to quickly analyze bespoke patient information and better identify patterns or trends in patient health. This way, doctors can issue more precise, data-driven recommendations without having to manually pore through individual data sources on their own, leaving them more time to spend bedside  answering patient questions and helping the providers to make informed decisions about next steps.

A connected hospital can also proactively share information with patients via connected devices in their hospital rooms, allowing them to understand how their treatment is coming along and what progress they've made to date. This, in turn, could enable more productive conversations between patients and their healthcare providers, potentially even improving patient outcomes as a result.  Ultimately, these kinds of capabilities could help hospitals transition from disease management to overall health management, adopting a more proactive approach to patient care that reduces costs and improves outcomes.

Smart healthcare can also help hospitals cut costs, operate more efficiently and use the efficiencies they've gained to elevate their standard of care. According to research published in JAMA, 25% of healthcare spending in the U.S. is wasted due to inefficiencies related to failure of care delivery, ineffective coordination of care and over-treatment or low-value care.1  By improving its internal processes, a connected hospital can address some of these challenges. With the time saved, healthcare professionals can focus their efforts on improving the patient experience.

What makes a hospital smart?

In short—Enterprise Intelligence makes a hospital smart. A smart hospital not only uses many advanced technologies to collect and analyze data, but it also leverages these technologies in concert with one another to help a hospital deliver more proactive, patient-informed and effective care. For example, this can be accomplished by collecting data at various points that are embedded throughout the hospital, so as to create a more accurate and up-to-date understanding of a patient's condition in near real-time. It may also include leveraging AI for specific tasks that don't scale well when performed by humans, such as analyzing the live video from a patient's hospital room to detect when they've fallen and proactively alerting the nursing station so they can deliver prompt assistance. Meanwhile, ML can deliver the predictive models required for doctors to spot an anomaly in time to intervene earlier in treatment and care programs.

Network infrastructure requirements for a connected hospital

Smart hospitals require high-performing network infrastructure to realize their full potential. With an increasing number of connected devices collecting a continuous stream of data, it is essential to have a strong network backbone that facilitates reliable data transmissions. A modern network environment is also necessary for enabling the flexibility and mobility that hospitals now require, with not only IoT devices but also a wide range of mobile devices connecting and sharing data through the entire facility. And since hospitals collect massive volumes of patient health information that is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), this network infrastructure must also be secure.

Depending on a hospital or hospital system's requirements, it may necessitate several advanced network infrastructure solutions to meet its requirements. They often include private 5G, private edge computing and Network as a Service (NaaS) solutions. 

  • Private 5G can provide the kind of dedicated speed, low latency, and network agility needed to deliver the most advanced, near real-time capabilities.  
  • Edge compute pulls cloud computer power closer to the point of delivery so that those AI algorithms can deliver inferences in near real-time exactly where they're needed. Edge computing and AI can help doctors make better decisions. 
  • Network-as-a-Service can help enable hospitals and health systems to drive more integrated communication between disparate systems and allow for faster access to data, analytics and inferencing that can be maximized across the network by all relevant stakeholders.

These technologies can help healthcare professionals to access the analytics insights they need to deliver prompt care. Edge computing can help  reduce end-to-end latency, reducing  delays in relaying crucial information between and among the various elements of a connected hospital.

Smart hospitals will elevate patient care

Hospitals are under tremendous pressure to deliver better patient care at the same time they are grappling with staffing shortages and inefficient processes that drain internal productivity. Information overload is one particular area of strain, with healthcare professionals reporting that they struggle to accurately interpret the vast volume of data before them. By leveraging enterprise intelligence capabilities in combination with high-performing networks, hospitals can  enable faster and more accurate decision-making that, in turn, can elevate their standard of care. By transitioning to a smart hospital model, healthcare organizations can help improve the patient experience and increase the chances that patients will turn to them the next time they need exceptional medical care.

Learn how Verizon's digital intelligence solutions are building the connected hospital of the future.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

JAMA. 2019;322(15):1501-1509. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.13978, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2752664

2 Heard, A., Hockenberry, S., McCabe, E., Polk, P., Schonberger, C., Winters, A., Maxey, H., Medlock, C. Preparing the Next Generation of the Healthcare Workforce: State Strategies for Recruitment and Retention. Washington, DC: National Governors Association, July 2023.