This article appears in the June 2014 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Technology is now in the process of not only tracking many everyday objects in healthcare, but also allowing those objects to sense and report things in a connected way to unprecedented degrees.
This technology is informing applications such as patient wayfinding, robotic transfer of supplies, interactive or informational displays throughout hospitals, and badges that employees or patients can carry or wear to optimize patient care and patient experience.
Wayfinding is essential in large medical facilities such as 395-bed Boston Children's Hospital, which built its own mobile phone application, MyWay, to help patients physically navigate their way through a campus consisting of 12 interconnected buildings with 150 total floors.
"It can be a bit of a maze, particularly when patients were going to a new doctor, clinic, or lab they hadn't been to before," says Naomi Fried, PhD, chief innovation officer of Boston Children's Hospital.
The app provides a step-by-step guide for a patient who may be walking from a parking garage to a particular doctor's office, a capability particularly important while the hospital is undergoing renovations, Fried says.
The app provides turn-by-turn directions much as an in-car navigation system does, and in its next incarnation, with the help of Cisco in-building technology, will also put a blue dot on the map indicating present location, hospital officials say.
"We see the Internet and the capability to leverage technology very broadly defined as a game-changer in the hospital," Fried says. "We are expecting to leverage technology to enhance the patient experience."
Patients aren't the only ones carrying mobile devices that sense or report their location in hospitals. For several years, hospitals have used network-connected robots to deliver meals, medicines and supplies, and to remove trash and soiled laundry using autonomous robotic tugs made by companies such as Aethlon.
Over time, such tugs have allowed newer hospital buildings to be redesigned so that not as much staging space is needed to temporarily store trash and laundry, but rather to be continuously picked up, according to officials at El Camino Hospital, a two-campus system with 300 beds in Mountain View, California, and another 143 beds in nearby Los Gatos.