What Makes A Hospital Smart?
The falling cost of technology and the clear case for digital connectivity has propelled hospitals to adopt new technologies faster. The sector is growing rapidly and a recent report from Market Research Engine predicts that the market for “smart hospital” technology is expected to exceed more than US$63-billion (R898-billion) by 2024.
Defining a smart hospital is a little tricky. The term covers an array of different technologies, such as network-connected biosensors, wearable devices that talk to cloud computing applications, smartphone apps and advanced data analysis techniques. It’s not just about clinical technology though. According to the World Health Organisation, healthcare facilities are “smart” when they link their structural and operational safety with green interventions — just like any other smart building design.
Smart building design
There’s a strong case for this across Africa, put forward in engineering and professional services company WSP’s High Performance, Smart Hospitals in Africa report. Constrained access to basic services such as water and power directly impacts healthcare, forcing facilities to implement green building best practices and renewable energy solutions to provide their own power and heat efficiently. The more self-sufficient hospitals and clinics are, the better they can function today and plan around potential price hikes in service provision tomorrow.
In South Africa, the Netcare Group has implemented many sustainable green technology policies and garnered a number of prestigious international and national environmental sustainability awards in recent years.
According to the managing director of the Netcare hospital division, Jacques du Plessis, Netcare’s goal is to conserve and protect environmental resources across the group’s hospital and other healthcare operations, its services and supply chain, and to minimise the group’s environmental footprint.
“In 2013, we embarked on developing a comprehensive environmental sustainability strategy for implementation throughout the Netcare Group, with energy, water and waste management as the initial key focus areas,” Du Plessis explains.
“The Netcare sustainability team has shown outstanding commitment to the advancement of sustainability practices within our hospital operations. In addition to ongoing initiatives in our existing facilities, all new Netcare hospitals are being developed using environmentally-sustainable principles as an integral part of their design,” adds Du Plessis.
Are buildings the weak link?
Smart building technology does have an effect on medical practice. CCTV camera manufacturer Axis, for example, is touting facial recognition as an alternative to smartcard or fingerprint access control for restricted areas. Allowing doors to be secured with “no touch” locks could be an important step for infection control.
For hospital devices, building management systems and networks to seamlessly talk to each other they have to be connected. And this interconnectedness and interoperability exposes hospitals to cybersecurity threats. A recent report from Beazley Breach Insights suggests that the healthcare sector is the most targeted by cybercriminals, accounting for 41 per cent of all breaches reported.
A Moody’s Investors Service report highlights a lack of experienced cybersecurity personnel, highly valuable data and vulnerability to ransomware attacks, which attract attackers to hospitals.
According to research from the University of California’s Davis Medical Centre, attacks in recent years have taken advantage of the vulnerability of building management systems. The findings further point out that data security practices in hospitals usually prioritise protecting patient privacy and don’t pay adequate attention to the reality that devices that may not have patient health information are subject to the same risks.
Global research and advisory company Gartner stated that in 2018, healthcare providers only spent about five per cent of their IT budgets on security.