Imagine the last time you or a loved one received care. What did the experience look like? Was it a seamless and positive experience? Or did it feel outdated and cumbersome?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a large US healthcare system on reimagining and transforming the patient and clinician experience. When focusing on how innovative technologies could shape the future of care, we imagined a “clinic of the future” where a patient could:

  • Schedule appointments and submit pre-screening forms via their smartphone
  • Send proactive updates to the clinic using location context when factors like traffic congestion impact arrival time
  • Easily find the clinic with wayfinding and navigation from the patient’s home to the provider parking lot and the exam room
  • Check in virtually with a receptionist, have a video telehealth visit or virtual specialist consultation
  • Find peer support groups, pre-treatment education, digital medication reminders, and automated prescription refills through their preferred communication channel

The vision was compelling! And the best part is that with Cisco and our ecosystem of partners, many of these experiences, capabilities and outcomes are possible to deliver today.

It’s true! Necessity is the mother of innovation.

Fast forward to March 2020 and the global pandemic. Almost overnight, healthcare providers and physicians pivoted to virtual care and the automation of scheduling and intake through their digital front door.

We saw virtual care expand to include increased adoption of telehealth visits, virtual patient visits, and remote clinical observation. Connecting bedside medical devices to enable virtual ICUs and reducing personal protective equipment (PPE) consumption became a necessity.

These hybrid work capabilities empowered clinical staff and other healthcare employees to work from home while maintaining access to care.

Prior to the pandemic, renovating healthcare spaces and hospital rooms was costly; renovating amidst a pandemic with elevated infection control protocols was nearly impossible. Necessity drove health providers to deliver these solutions with existing physical infrastructure and minimal disruption.

As we look to the future, health providers plan to continue delivering the experiences that patients, clinicians, and staff now demand. The importance of business resiliency and operational efficiency during the pandemic has helped prepare providers for future emergencies.

Health providers understand that the agility created by flexible buildings, reconfigurable spaces, and elastic infrastructure systems will enable them to adapt to new solutions and respond to changing circumstances in the future.

Healthcare and the “fourth utility”

The requirement for agility and programmability is among the trends driving the rise of smart hospitals. It is achieved by purposefully designing “technology as a fourth utility” into the hospital infrastructure, alongside water, gas and electricity.

In a smart hospital, the fourth utility can securely connect clinical, operational, and business systems, applications, users, and data to enable a more automated, adaptable, programmable, and sustainable experience.

This convergence of facilities and operations technology (“OT”) networks alongside clinical (“CE”) and administrative information technology (“IT”) systems is so crucial to the secure, reliable delivery of health provider capabilities, that the HIMSS Analytics Infrastructure Adoption Model (“INFRAM”) requires it for Stage 6 and Stage 7 validation.

Once connected, these previously siloed systems can be programmed to work together to deliver improved workflows and experiences for patients, clinicians, administrators, and guests. For example: patients and guests can be guided with wayfinding and navigation; clinical staff can use real time location services to track and locate equipment such as wheelchairs, infusion pumps, and ventilators; clinical staff can add new ICU bed capacity and automatically connect medical devices; and administrators can manage waiting room times, occupancy limits, and room reservations to ensure optimal space utilization. All these capabilities leverage common network, wireless, data center, security, and collaboration technologies.

The clinician and patient experience are improved in a smart hospital by giving more autonomy to patients. Patients can manage the lighting, window shades and temperature – all from the comfort of their bed. As a direct consequence, nurse call events for these issues are reduced, helping to lower stress, burnout, and turnover of clinical staff. As reported in Architect Magazine, clinical outcomes may be improved with the right smart LED lighting solution, by enabling soft, indirect, and circadian rhythm lighting in patient rooms and nurses’ stations. This LED lighting, along with motorized shades, HVAC, and other systems mentioned above can all be connected, programmed, powered, and secured with the fourth utility.

A smart hospital includes security and privacy by design

Cybersecurity and data privacy are more important in healthcare than ever before – and cyber-attacks and costs are on the rise. The ability of a healthcare institution to connect and secure previously siloed systems, devices, and data is essential. Despite the risk and incidence of cyberattacks, healthcare systems have traditionally underinvested in cybersecurity, and security and policy controls may be inconsistently applied across different systems.

A smart hospital running on the fourth utility can provide end-to-end security, policy, identity, and access controls to block threats, contain intruders, and improve visibility across medical and IoT devices, infrastructure end points, building systems, and other IT and OT systems. This holistic approach to security helps to increase compliance, reduce risk, and improve stakeholder confidence.

The smart hospital is the clinic of the future

Cisco is working with healthcare customers and a growing ecosystem of partners to help design and build smart hospitals. As a result, healthcare customers are realizing the potential to deliver multiple organizational goals: business resiliency, improved clinician, patient, and guest experiences, operational efficiency, and security. The result will be more a sustainable, secure, and agile hospital.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog where we will discuss how the smart hospital can deliver on an organization’s sustainability and carbon reduction goals.

Interested in learning more about Cisco’s solutions for smart hospitals? Check out the KNU Hospital and Groves Memorial Hospital stories and take a virtual tour of the office of the future.


Sean Caragata

Director, Sales Business Development

Industrial and Infrastructure Group