Going to the hospital for an operation can be a worrying time for anyone. Particularly for a child, faced with frightening-looking machines and wondering what’s going to happen to you, it can be a scary prospect.
But what if the time spent in hospital could be reduced? What if results could be achieved and accessed more quickly and efficiently, possibly reducing the number of hospital visits to a minimum? And what if that also meant that the hospital could better serve their patients?
These are some of the possibilities being explored in a connected health project that is helping create the world’s first 5G hospital in Oulu, Finland.
“Our research is identifying how digitization can help medical staff to work more efficiently and productively, allocate more of their working time to actual caring for patients, and providing them with a better care experience,” says Connected Health Professor, Minna Pikkarainen, leader of the project.
As such, the work validates some very forward-thinking ideas and how they can be enabled by 5G to make people’s lives better.
The journey to 5G starts with current technologies
The multi-partner research project in Oulu seeks to make a fully 5G connected hospital a reality to both improve patient care and lower costs. Nokia is providing a 5G test network used by the Oulu University Hospital test and development environment, where over 90% of the hospital’s procedures can be tested.
The health research project first studied paediatric surgery, following patients’ progress from admission to discharge, understanding the concerns and questions patients have at different points along the process, and identifying development needs and connected health services that could support and simplify their treatment and care.
“Our research indicated that even basic digitized communication services along with an improved transparency of care process could help parents and children prepare for their entire surgery journey better, giving them a greater sense of certainty and safety. The work of nurses and doctors could also become more efficient and patient-centered through automatization and transparency in patient data and care history collection and management, in addition to supporting faster and more accurate medical decision making, for example in pre-surgery phase,” says Mari Ervasti, the project’s Research Coordinator.
Thus the path to digitalization starts by walking through the entire care journey of a prospective surgery patient. Understanding the real needs of the doctors, nurses, children and their parents, and identifying the areas where service improvements are needed. Evaluating what parts of the patient journey should be digitalized and which novel technologies to be used. Identifying relevant innovations on the horizon and finding the right players to realize it together. What this project has shown is that with hard work and dedication, a connected children’s hospital can be started already today with existing technologies.
From isolated applications to harmonized systems - building a new ecosystem together
The crucial point and prerequisite is to build an ecosystem that works smoothly to create new connected health services and devices together.
“Startups are moving fast with their own innovations. Many solutions complement one other but many overlap and focus on covering the same points in the patient journey. Yet, hospitals cannot invest in completely new types of devices, sensors or application environments every time they want to digitize one part of the care process. Similarly, patients cannot buy or download a new device or application for every metric or step in the care process,” says Pikkarainen. Ideally, the same services and wireless sensors would follow patients from home to hospital and back home throughout the journey.
To achieve this we need harmonized solutions requiring developers, health professionals, IT experts, telco service providers and technology vendors, like Nokia, to come together. Genuinely co-creating services leads to stronger links that in turn foster innovative work and cultural change. Using data analytics to support decision-making could enable co-creation with realistic resources and the most useful services.
IT and telco experts can help identify the opportunities that technologies like 5G enable, looking at how data best serves the needs of ecosystem players. Although a lot can be done with existing technologies, the challenge is that full digitization means a complete transformation in operations, operational models and in the company culture – along with building new competencies and supporting tools and processes.
Nurturing a proper ecosystem is essential to realize 5G’s benefits
In essence, 5G will help transform many industries in addition to the health sector - but it won’t happen in isolation by current telco players. 5G is about co-creation, sharing value and new business models and an explosion of opportunities. And the right time to start envisioning what we want to achieve with it is right now.
Read more on how Nokia Services help turn 5G visions into real business
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