Digital twins can improve the smooth running of the hospitals, says Abhi Shekhar Digital Healthcare Lead, Mott MacDonald
In the current economic climate, it’s becoming more and more expensive to build anything, especially a hospital. It’s also more difficult to operate a hospital effectively, so organisations are looking to optimise their assets and redefine them to meet increasing demand. Combined with a reduced healthcare workforce across the globe, resources are at all time low right across the healthcare spectrum.
“The question is, how do we make better use of what we have?” says Abhi. “It’s about using the data generated across the healthcare system to create adaptable health and wellbeing estates as well as integrating the human experience, which is at the core of it, delivering better outcomes for patients and better experiences for staff.”
The changing face of healthcare as a result of the sudden uptake of technology solutions is actually a benefit. For a start, the patient cohort is now used to the concept of telehealth and is no longer resistant to digital implementation if they can see the upside. Given this mindset change, hospitals can now pivot to redefine their spaces and offerings in a way that maximises the current estates and facilities in an entirely different way.
Yet the ageing worldwide population is creating increased demand, and so far the majority of patients don’t have the confidence to manage their own health. In the meantime, hospitals need to look at how to design workspaces to support remote patients and switch between remote and in-patient care.
It’s a journey that is a learning curve for all concerned. Added to this are the challenges of minimising carbon footprint to meet Net Zero targets and reduce operating costs while delivering capital improvements. It’s a squeeze all round, but Mott Macdonald has created a solution that can resolve many of the pinch points.
The digital hospital
Once the patient understands the concept of a hospital as a digitally connected community rather than a physical space, the task becomes easier. “It’s about rethinking the mindset and making the journey digital,” Abhi says. “So how do we integrate the building with a digital element? It’s about using the data to make decisions better, faster and cheaper, whether that’s to optimise clinical operations, deliver better patient care, or to improve operational performance and reduce costs from a system perspective.
“The reason we call it intelligent is that, from our perspective, it’s an evolution. The intelligence comes from the data that’s generated at the hospital. Any building can be a smart building if you put enough technology in it, but if you’re not effectively using technology and harnessing it in terms of how the building adapts to it, then it isn’t intelligent.”
So how do we make it smart? “We have to harness the data about how people move and engage with the building to adapt it for the future,” he continues. “We also have to advance carbon-negative solutions to minimise carbon footprint? Alongside this we have to personalise the experience for patients and users to make it inclusive and compassionate.”
Keeping the data flowing
“The key thing is making sure that patient data flows seamlessly across multiple different settings. At the same time, it’s important that the staff can see the data so they can deliver a better experience. It’s as simple as showing that the patient has turned up at the hospital. Once they require a bed, it’s about understanding where the beds are at capacity to ensure the flow is seamless and minimise the wait times across all the different aspects, as well as providing accurate information to the waiting patient.”
This information also includes the fabric technologies that are required to make a building work. They range from digital wayfinding, check in kiosks and getting updates on status updates to the patients and waiting lists for the staff – the flow technologies are at the heart of the hospital. Once the correct information is available to the right stakeholders -operational, political, estates or executives – there is an overview of the whole picture which is integrated. That’s what drives an intelligent hospital.
The digital twin
As all this information is gathered, how does the hospital make sense of it? “The Digital Twin is the mechanism to bring together the data, analyse it and orchestrate the different technologies across the fabric and flow to support and deliver. It essentially acts as the single source of truth,” says Abhi.
“It’s not just a digital copy of a physical asset or a process or system. The key thing is that the data transmitted is fed back to the physical twin in real time or near real time to make an effective intervention. At a simplistic level, you can have a digital twin of a hospital boiler or asset and you can then scale that out to the wider energy management to get a complete picture. From there it can be scaled across the entire facility.
“Similarly, this method can be used across an entire clinical pathway. It can be used to see where the blockages are, for example in receiving ambulance patients, understanding bed availability and seeing which patients can be moved from the Emergency Department to free up space. It can be as simple as a dashboard that maps out the patient flow and reveals how to optimise the resources available.”
Understanding the patient flow will enable hospitals to maximise their capabilities. There will be up to 38 per cent fewer emergency admissions as hospitals expand their ability to treat patients at home. Once patients understand how to manage their own conditions and see where the hospital can be used effectively, the benefits will be huge.
Alongside this, the digital twin will be in play to optimise hospital resources, inform both staff and patients of processes and flows, creating a better working environment and a more compassionate setting for those in need.