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IoT benefits hospital logistics

Feature

By Dennis van Doorn, Marketing Manager IoT Connectivity, Fujitsu Components Europe


In hospital process infrastructure and logistics, there is always room for improvements that save costs whilst delivering better patient care and outcomes and IoT technology may be the ideal platform to improve workflows and processes. Breaking through the traditional bottlenecks, a resilient IoT mesh network could deliver higher quality care much cheaper and lower the pressure on human resources

A pilot project initiated by a Dutch children’s hospital has enlisted an entire ward as an IoT “playground” to experiment with various types of tags, sensors and switches in a network. The starting point is a network topology that provides the best resilience and flexibility. The specific solution provided for Dutch hospital offers significant advantages over conventional mesh network technologies, as it allows the constructing of highly scaleable, high-density networks.

Excellent radio wave interference resistance is ensured by using the 2.4GHz frequency band, in this case adopting a unique protocol that’s different from Wireless LAN or Bluetooth technology.

Decentralised intelligence

All intelligence is in the network. Devices decide the best actions by themselves, choosing locally how to make best use of the available radio spectrum and energy – no central network controller necessary. Local decision-making ensures that devices always operate in an optimised way and also manages scaleability for growing IoT applications.

Devices in the hospital mesh communicate data over multiple hops. Topology is continuously optimised, adapting to changes in the environment and the network. For each device there are multiple routing options, and multiple gateways can be used in the same network. Multiple connection directions are supported for to and from the Cloud and device to device in the network. With this type of mesh, devices automatically choose their role according to the situation, which means that every device is a possible routing point for forwarding data. Users do not need to define the roles of the devices since this is done autonomously depending on what the optimal topology is at a given time. There are no repeaters, routers or other infrastructure devices required in this type of mesh.

The technical advantages of such a mesh network suit it perfectly to the challenge of hospital logistics. Here, nodes include mobile tags for asset tracking, sensors for environment monitoring, such as temperature and C0₂, and to monitor hospital refrigerators such as those used to store medication. In addition, the mesh network accommodates devices for lighting control and indoor navigation.

Tracking

The initial focus at the Dutch hospital was for tracking hospital equipment. Beds, incubators, infusion pumps are among the many items that go missing, even in the best-run hospitals. Locating lost gear is a drain on staff time, distracting from the central task of patient care. IoT track/trace modules can be attached to anything. Location data can also be used for stock control, for example alerting staff when stocks are low. Sensors can alert staff to things like the need for towel replenishment in washrooms, or liquid spilled on the floor.

By using the mesh network, an unlimited amount of assets can be added or removed without network maintenance. Asset tags simply reroute the information. In addition, there is the option to use historical data to further optimise the flow of assets. Heatmap apps enable visualisation of congestion points, alerting to problem areas like hallways.

Smart lighting and switches

Light is an important aspect in patient well-being and staff productivity, as well as responsible energy consumption. The IoT solution encompasses a connected, intelligent lighting system that combines low-latency operation for light control with the high data rate network to capture information from various sensors. Sensors capture key data about their surroundings, such as occupancy, motion and air quality. They can last for years within this network thanks to the ultra-low power mode of connected devices.

At Dutch hospital, smart LED lighting fixtures act as anchor nodes in the mesh network, through which the battery-powered mobile tags communicate their positions. This solution proved no more expensive than a normal LED lighting upgrade. Being mains-powered, the lighting provides a very low latency network that makes it simple to extend the scope of IoT applications running on it.

By integrating energy-harvesting wireless switches, the energy produced by pressing the button is enough to make switch the light or make a call for assistance, a bed, or any other function. As a bonus, the lighting offers extra functionality such as daylight compensation, smart grouping and lighting plans based on presence or personal preferences. Presence sensors provide occupancy data enabling further efficiency savings.

Indoor navigation

Guiding patients and staff is another significant challenge in large hospitals such as the Dutch children’s hospital. Navigation is currently offered through photo-based wayfinding. However, including beacons in the IoT mesh enables nodes to transmit standard Bluetooth beacon messages to indoor mapping and navigation apps. The mobile application gives users accurate positioning in real-time on their mobile phone, along with wayfinding and turn-by-turn navigation.

For the Dutch hospital, this is just the start of the journey. Many hospitals worldwide will be watching – and looking to IoT solutions themselves.

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