Hospital 4.0 and Connectivity in the Health Sector

It's important to look at existing technologies and understand how the Internet of Things helps hospitals to evolve.
Published: July 30, 2018

The term “Industry 4.0” has been highlighted for some time. But have you heard of “Hospital 4.0?” Maybe you haven’t heard this specific term, no, but surely we cannot deny that medical environments and equipment are becoming increasingly connected. From now on, this feature will be a requirement of health institutions, which are moving to reach a more advanced technological level. Welcome to connected hospitals.

A few years ago, connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) were almost like science-fiction concepts. This has changed a lot, however, and the 4.0 concept is here to stay, regardless of the sector. In fact, for organizations to survive, they need to undergo a process of digital transformation, and health care is no different. In my view, Hospital 4.0 is supported by five pillars: the IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, 3D printing, and mixed reality and virtual simulation.

The expectation is that the IoT will continue to develop in this area, bringing performance gains, risk reduction, automation and cost reduction. Global investments in such applications in the health-care sector are expected to grow to $158.1 billion during the next five years. In China, the forecast of resources destined to foster research, development and innovation is US$200 million. In the United States, investments will reach US$533 billion, with an average of 85 percent of this total returning to the industry.

In Brazil, however, we speak of a much more modest scenario—around US$20 billion in investments and only a 27 percent result in mature products that can serve the market. The good news is that the country is trying to change this scenario, and this movement comes from several members of the chain.

By 2014, temperature and humidity sensors, for example, cost $1.30 apiece. The outlook for 2020 is that they will cost only $0.38 each. We’re working to make it very cheap, and from the moment that happens, the demand and the offers for services with this application will greatly increase. On the other hand, it is also realized that hospitals greatly want to be considered part of Hospital 4.0, and are investing and moving toward this new approach.

We see an industry engaged in this, and 3D printers may be an iconic example. In medical equipment—that is, in the clinical treatment of patients—they leave the factory with built-in IoT resources even for the most critical patients (who are, in fact, those most in need of constant monitoring).

According to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 279 premature births occur annually (prior to 37 weeks of gestation). Connectivity in incubators and heated cribs is thus essential, and is no longer just a concept from The Jetsons (a cartoon of the 1960s that portrayed what human life would be like in the future).

It is possible to monitor the distance and, in a constant way, the temperature, oxygen and humidity levels—in short, providing diverse information with a high level of detail. In this way, health teams can make decisions based on accurate and up-to-date data, leading to better results for patients, and in less time.

The scenario and use of AI, which enables the management and analysis of large volumes of data (big data), for example, creates a fully integrated hospital in which wireless devices and online systems connect, allowing access to a great deal of information regarding equipment, materials, environments, supplies and patients in a continuous way.

Of course, there is still a great deal of concern regarding safety, especially with regard to patients. Obviously, preserving data is important and part of the plans, but health technology developers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ultimately prioritize the safety of those being served by the equipment.

In fact, for equipment to be certified, it must comply with a number of standards, making clear the levels of risk and mitigation required. Systems of encryption, authentication by levels of difficulty criteria, backup, redundancy, password exchange and other requests are crucial to avoid attacks, and to minimize the risk of problems reaching the patient.

In 2018, it is already possible to look at existing technologies and understand what the IoT is and what Hospital 4.0 is. We are talking about a future in which data will help save lives, bringing greater security and agility to health care, with greater connectivity in the health-care industry.

Rodrigo Moreni is the head of project department at the Fanem laboratory.