Building smarter and safer health care facilities

Transform health systems performance with labor-saving technologies

By and Ishan Sehgal | 4 minute read | May 5, 2020

This has been a harrowing time for all of us, but none have felt it more deeply or more personally than the healthcare workers who risk their own safety for the lives of others on a daily basis. Their efforts in the face of a global pandemic have been nothing short of heroic, and we applaud them for everything they’ve done, everywhere throughout the world.

When this immediate crisis passes, and we are able to take a deep sigh of relief, we’ll reflect on what has happened and why. We will especially ask how we could have done better. This insight will be used to prepare us for the future because we never want to repeat this level of strain on those valuable, admirable healthcare professionals who deserve every bit of support that we can provide.

With each crisis, we learn how to prepare for the next

When Ebola struck in 2014, the CDC and healthcare systems learned the importance of tracking staff who had come into contact with an affected patient. Initially, this tracking was conducted manually – a cumbersome, inefficient practice. Challenged to improve the process, Bellevue Hospital in New York City established a platform with a hotline for healthcare workers to call if they developed a fever. The call center also proactively contacted sick workers to monitor their condition. Today, an assortment of apps with similar tracking capabilities are available for use.

As we continue to deal with the spread of COVID-19, we are already developing new technologies to help manage the next cataclysmic event. Among these are:

  • Apps for iOS and Android products to connect patients with health authorities
  • Telehealth capabilities for both physical and mental health
  • Genomic testing to determine any genetic factors affecting infection
  • GPS tracking of patients to ensure containment and patient compliance with self-isolation demands
  • Co-location maps to alert users to exposure to the contagion
  • High-speed screening and diagnostics with test results available online
  • Wearables such as Fitbits, Apple Watches and other devices equipped to monitor health and provide symptoms alerts
  • Deep computer analysis of the virus and models for studying its protein structure
  • Robots to assist the medical team in treating isolated patients

IBM is working with business partners, clients, competitors, government agencies and others to develop some of these technologies. Together, we expect to solve many of the monumental challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But here’s something that we haven’t expected: out of the crisis emerged some smaller issues that can have a tremendous impact on the efficiency of our healthcare providers.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regulations can place an additional burden on already overburdened staff

One problem that was brought to our attention was the need to perform routine facility and equipment maintenance. It takes a lot of time to ensure that everything in the hospital is compliant with regulations, and when systems are under duress, this is time that nobody has to spare. Healthcare facilities want to ensure that their valuable technical staff can dedicate their time to maintaining life-saving devices rather than monitoring routine equipment such as signage.

As we reported in a previous blog, an average-sized public building may have approximately 1,000 exit signs. Each sign requires a monthly inspection and an annual 90-minute battery test. The estimated annual costs of manual inspection are $25 per sign per month, which equates to about $300,000 every year. Maintenance staff spends roughly 100 hours per month — time that could be more productively spent on more critical duties.

But failure to test a simple exit sign can cost a medical facility as much as $13,000 per day per violation. Adherence is not only a safety requirement, it’s also a financial imperative.

Recently, we worked with one of our business partners, Willard IoT, to develop a solution to this problem.

Willard Smart ExitTM Signs relieve hospital staff of routine maintenance

The Willard Smart Exit Sign ensures regulatory compliance through self-diagnostics, systematic monitoring and optional AI-triggered maintenance service requests. The automated system reduces the cost and human error associated with manual inspections and tests of individual exit signs.

Incorporating IBM® Maximo® Asset Monitor technology, the Willard Smart Exit Sign connects physical device monitoring with a cloud-based IoT platform to create an intuitive summary dashboard. This approach provides continuous, real-time visibility and leads to dramatic safety risk reduction. Additionally, it ensures National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliance.

When connected to IBM Maximo Asset Management, the system initiates auto-generation of service requests or work orders to address any problems that are detected.

To summarize, Willard Smart Exit Signs save time, save money, ensure compliance and prevent potentially catastrophic failure in an emergency.

Let’s get smarter about routine hospital maintenance

As we all know, the COVID-19 crisis has put an enormous strain on hospitals, their staff, their administrators and their suppliers…not to mention the communities that they serve.

Through seemingly endless weeks of infection and illness, healthcare providers have demonstrated unrelenting dedication. And those who support them have been doing their utmost to see they have access to the functioning equipment and supplies they require. While some of our medical staffs’ needs are enormous, this crisis has taught us that everyday tasks need to be addressed, processes need to be streamlined and time needs to be saved. Every minute and dollar we economize on routine maintenance can be better spent saving a life.