The Internet of Things? What ‘things’? Has technology become so difficult that the people inventing it cannot even come up with a name for it?
Sounds like it – but no. The Internet of Things (IoT) is simple. The ‘things’ referred to are, well, things –garage door openers, locks, lights, TV’s and DVR’s and security cameras. Almost anything that can be connected to a network can be controlled or exploited by IoT. Amazon has done wonders with a product called ‘Echo’; a so-called IoT Hub. In our home, Echo is named Alexa (a name selected by Amazon for all Echos). Here are examples of what ‘she’ can do, completely hands-free: turn off the kitchen lights, make the hallway lights blue, close the pool cover, start the dishwasher, synchronize the landscape lights to the beat of music from I-Heart Radio Smooth Jazz, turn on the TV, set a timer for 30 minutes and shut off that darn X-Box!
Sound difficult? Using the Hub is so easy that my own wife, an admitted technophobe who swears that technology is the root of all evil, has purchased a second Hub for the upstairs. Common places like hardware and electronic stores, malls, even discount retailers sell light bulb kits, garage door openers and other everyday products that are now able to connect themselves to home networks. The IoT Hub discovers these devices and is then ready to use them.
IoT Hubs will automatically connect to your home network. They also connect to the Internet for added fun. You can ask questions such as: Alexa, what’s the square root of 126? When do the Blackhawks play next? What was score of the last Denver Broncos game? Tell me about the history of the Statue of Liberty. Find and play a station broadcasting music similar to Taylor Swift.
So why talk about IoT Hubs in a healthcare blog? Envision a patient room with a Hub that can assist with things such as: close the blinds, turn on a reading light, call the nurse, check my current heart rate and temperature, turn down the room temperature, what was the dosage of the last painkiller, close my room door, and turn on Jerry Springer at 2:00 (not highly recommended!). And patient rooms are just the beginning. Imagine a Nurses Station with the same capabilities. Alexa, where is patient Smith? Silence the pump alarm in room 517. Dim the corridor lights to 30 percent. Tell EVS to clean room 512, locate a pediatric wheelchair and send the location to my handset. Let Clinical Engineering know we have a broken vent, and tell facilities the overhead paging is too loud on the 5th floor.
The possibilities for healthcare are endless. Using IoT sensors and devices with an IoT Hub, Facilities Engineering can monitor temperature and air flows at any level of granularity. Infection Control can gently remind staff who have not washed their hands based on the span of time spent away from a sink. Parking garages can automatically let Guest Services know what parking lots and spaces are available for visitors. The amount of dirt on the windows could be automatically communicated to the window washing company. Risk Management will know who has come into contact with contaminated equipment and clinical workflow managers will be alerted to upcoming slowdowns to clinical processes. The pharmacy will know before a pump bag runs dry.
IoT sensors are already located in some hospitals and are being used to track supplies, locate staff and within a small number of mechanical controls for building automation. Wearable technologies monitoring biometric data do exist today, and a growth of offerings in this line will be the next step for hospitals. Already we are starting to see program space being set aside by hospitals to blend clinical engineering, clinical care providers, and IT departments who will work together to choose, fit, configure, and remotely monitor patients wearing IoT sensors, smart clothing, even implants and prosthetics which will communicate back into the hospital network.
While big leaps into IoT won’t be seen in the typical hospital for a few years, forthcoming IoT devices will route alarms from equipment to care providers, warn of fall-risks, automate re-supply of equipment and meds, track clinical process flow, mitigate queuing, and heighten the use of autonomous robots for specimen collection, supply delivery and remote telemedicine visits. Beyond that, as driverless cars make their way into mainstream, hospital garages and way finding systems will ultimately communicate directly with these vehicles, alerting ED staff of an incoming patient and then routing these driverless cars to appropriate entry points, all based on the biometric readings of the passenger/patient within.
And if you want to know more about those driverless cars, how they work, where to buy one and how much they cost, ask Alexa! She knows everything.