Aarhus University Hospital has taken the lead in data collection and optimisation through the Internet of things. While the potential for data-driven improvements is huge, the hospital’s administrators and executives have only just begun to dip their toes into the new water.
In a deserted aisle within the Aarhaus University Hospital, 12 rubbish bins are methodically aligned behind yellow and black markers. While unremarkable on the surface, the trash cans have a special story to tell.
They form a small piece of a logistical mega-puzzle that unfolds daily in the 500,000 square meter building. Every ten hours throughout the work day, 1,000 out of the 10,000 hospital employees are busy moving things and people. As the new super hospital prepared to open its doors last year, there was a prime opportunity to rethink logistics from scratch, resulting in a new digital approach to treatment, logistics, and healthcare delivery.
In five years, we are not discussing how to use data, but to what extent
If you look closely, you will see a small RDIF (radar data interchange format technology) tag on each trash can – similar to a barcode. With 3,000 readers and 50,000 chip-mounted items throughout the hospital, data can be monitored and logistics can be set based on the new system.
According to Steffen Ørnemark, the project manager for the hospital’s data partner, Service Logistics:
“Although we rarely do this directly, I usually say that we help to save human lives every single day. If you do not have the right products for an operation, you cannot operate. So the chips serve an important function, even if you don’t see them directly.”
While the data helps to ensure that trash bins are emptied and patients have their bedding cleaned in the most efficient way possible, it holds much greater potential for the entire healthcare system.
Money saved is money earned
Now that the hospital’s equipment is traceable, trash cans and expensive medical equipment no longer disappear into a corner of the huge building.
Staff members have been given access to this tracking solution so that they can search for items digitally and locate them on a map. By that same token, employees can wear tags so that they can be located in real-time.
In Ørnemark’s words:
“Based on some samples we have made, we see that nurses spend at least 14 minutes a day looking for things. If you can reduce that number by half, it frees up a lot of extra time for patient care.”
Of course, data collection is not just valuable for locating equipment and personnel. As Ørnemark points out, it can also be used to optimise flow:
“We know whether a trash can is empty or filled depending on where it is located – without the need for additional sensors or anyone keeping an eye on it. Just by being able to follow the equipment’s path, we can start translating it into work tasks.”
This type of tracking can also improve flow and procuring the right amount of equipment, which can ultimately save the hospital money. Paraphrasing Ørnemark, just as it costs money to buy new equipment, it costs money to have it in rotation. For example, beds need to be kept clean irrespective of whether they are in use. Every surplus bed has an associated cost, in addition to taking up space.
In such a large and dynamic workplace, even small gains can result in huge savings.
Data enables proactiveness
The next step is to make sense of the data collected so that it can be translated into strategic actions that improve healthcare processes and patient outcomes. For this, the obvious and proactive step is to add predictive maintenance, which offers responses to such questions as: How many miles can a trash can be moved before its wheels must be changed? In this way, hospital administrators can identify and respond to bottlenecks.
Illustrating the point, Ørnemark explains:
“We can go through the data and say, if there are more than 50 carts piling up, we are on our way to a bottleneck that can result in cancelled operations. This enables you to stop guessing and start engaging in strategic discussions based on numbers and where the problem is arising.”
Although logistics is a big part of running a hospital, Ørnemark views this as more of an Internet of things (IoT) or Industry 4.0 issue than health tech:
“Because the IoT solution is built around international standards, if we find something from a South Korean supplier who has delivered an elegant solution for shipbuilding, we can make use of it in healthcare. Instead of just making something that fits Aarhus University Hospital, we must – to the greatest possible extent – build something others can use or become inspired by.”
Looking ahead, Ørnemark speculates that our conversations will evolve from how should we use data to to what extent should we be using data? This type of technology is going to affect the entire supply chain and ultimately the entire way we organise hospitals.