Hospitals waste significant amounts of time and resources trying to calculate bed occupancy and replacing lost equipment. A new form of wireless technology promises to radically streamline the way in which they approach these logistical problems. Medical Device Developments talks to Dennis van Doorn, marketing manager for wireless solutions at Fujitsu Components Europe, about how the company's new Smart Beacon device allows doctors to find more time for the jobs that really matter in the running of a hospital.
Hospitals are meant to be places where doctors, surgeons and nurses can use the resources and equipment necessary to deliver complex care regimens to patients suffering from serious illness or injury. There remains, however, a wild discrepancy in the capability and availability of the equipment used to attain that goal.
While robots may be deployed in the operating room and MRI scanners used to pinpoint maladies that might not otherwise be discovered - even with recourse to surgery - it is still not uncommon to see doctors patrolling wards with paper charts on clipboards, and confused visitors led astray by indecipherable departmental signage.
Through the use of wireless technology, Fujitsu Components Europe hopes to make these sorts of sights a thing of the past, with its new Smart Beacon technology. Built around a Bluetooth low-energy transmitter, an individual module broadcasts specific data, whether in the form of an identification number, a link to a website or simply information on transmission power. According to the company's marketing manager for wireless solutions, Dennis van Doorn, Fujitsu's ultimate goal is for its Smart Beacons to spur a range of efficiencies in hospital logistics and measures to enhance patient well-being.
Van Doorn is particularly excited about the potential for Fujitsu Smart Beacons to enhance indoor navigation.
"Imagine that the patient walks into a hospital and has an appointment at a certain department," he explains. "They open the hospital's app on their mobile phone, and it will guide them, via the beacon, through the building to the area where they have their appointment. If the app recognises the patient by a login, the beacon at the department could even trigger the app to announce the patient on the system. Waiting in line at reception would no longer be required. We're already seeing our Smart Beacons being deployed in this way in a number of hospitals and other public buildings."
Another potential use lies in the indoor localisation of assets by hospitals. Calculating the numbers of beds in current use or locating lost equipment is often labour-intensive, and therefore a drain on the resources of medical institutions. By attaching Smart Beacons to these assets, hospitals will be in a position to gather data on occupancy and equipment rosters automatically.
"Wireless technology can also be used for patient data available to the doctor," adds van Doorn. "As soon as a doctor approaches a bed, for instance, and that bed is linked to a certain patient, the doctor will get the relevant information on their tablet."
In addition, Fujitsu's Smart Beacons are cheap to install and easier to maintain than similar devices. "Most current wireless technologies installed in hospitals aren't truly 'wireless'," van Doorn says. "They tend to be connected to a base station with wires, and so installation can be very expensive. By contrast, beacons that are running on batteries can last for years and can be placed anywhere inside the building."
Ultimately, van Doorn anticipates that Fujitsu's Smart Beacons - in a larger scale than already offered by the company - will be partnered with a plethora of sensor technologies, allowing medical practitioners to more easily monitor changes to a patient's vital signs.
"Our wireless modules are so energy efficient and small these days that it's perfectly possible to manufacture attachable sensors for measuring changes in temperature or even heart rate. In the near future, we will also be releasing beacons powered by harvesting energy, the first step of which will be the addition of solar panels," says van Doorn, adding that, when that occurs, the need for a battery - and, in large part, maintenance - is swept away.
It's an ambitious outlook, albeit one informed by the current capabilities of the Smart Beacon technology.
"This technology is already heading in the right direction and, with our new modules, it's becoming more advanced and cost-effective than ever," concludes van Doorn.