João Fernandes, founder and chief executive of BuzzStreets, looks at how the way we navigate around hospitals will change over the next decade
A patient is scheduled for an operation to receive a 3D-printed kidney.
Their AI assistant orders them a self-driving taxi to take them to your medical facility.
Once there, they’re automatically checked in and directed to the correct ward, despite a recent reallocation of beds. Unfortunately, the 3D-printer has been misplaced, but you glance at your digital map and discover it is still in Operating Theatre B, so you quickly retrieve it.
It’s not hard to see how these technologies will chain together to allow for swift and seamless medical procedures. The one thing fuelling it all, however, is navigation
No, this isn’t the start of a sci-fi novel; it’s not even a particularly-futuristic vision. It’s merely the combination of technologies already coming to maturity.
3D printed organ replacement. Check; AI assistants. Check; Self-driving taxis, Check; Real-time indoor navigation. Check; Location-tagging of medical devices. Check.
It’s not hard to see how these technologies will chain together to allow for swift and seamless medical procedures. The one thing fuelling it all, however, is navigation.
Of course, outdoor navigation technology matured years ago and now we all walk around with a detailed map of the world in our pockets. But what happens when you enter a building? The navigation drops out. That’s because map technology is enabled via GPS – satellite technology. And, while that sounds cool and techie; in reality satellites are rubbish at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.
This poses a particular problem for hospitals, which tend to be large, complex environments. Patients and equipment can easily get lost, leading to delays and highly-qualified staff spending time providing directions.
Every complex environment has its own unique technical challenges to be ironed out, meaning indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a DIY approach
Fortunately, solutions to this particular problem have already been developed. Most use Bluetooth beacons positioned around the interior of a building to ping a user’s mobile device, allowing an app to pinpoint the user’s location to within a few feet. Of course, there are more-sensitive solutions which allow for centimetre-accurate positioning; but that’s usually overkill for something the size of a person.
These beacons are steadily becoming cheaper and more reliable, making them a cost-effective solution for most large and complex indoor environments like hospitals. Yet, every complex environment has its own unique technical challenges to be ironed out, meaning indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a DIY approach.
We have been working on a number of pilot projects with hospitals, offices, and stadia to iron out these kinks, while Google offers DIY indoor mapping without navigation features.
In the very-near future, we will see the combination of these technologies providing a quick and simple solution for medical facilities.
At this point, we will quickly reach a critical mass of healthcare providers and other businesses providing indoor navigation, making the whole world will be navigable – indoors and out.
Indoor navigation can do more than simply get patients from A to B, however. It could also pave the way for a more-automated system of moving people around.
Doctors’ and patients’ schedules could be integrated so they know when to move from orthopaedic outpatient waiting area through to the X-ray room when it is their turn, for example.
While they wait, they could be provided with information about the procedure in the form of an augmented reality (AR) demonstration. The orthopaedic department may offer physiotherapy instructions, for example, making better use of the patient’s waiting time.
Gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately
Again, this isn’t necessarily a sci-fi vision. We are already playing around with AR ideas such as these to offer patients useful information and keep them entertained while they wait.
When hands-free, wearable devices become the mainstream, this futuristic vision will become a reality. Until then, we will still need to use our smartphones and tablets as a window to this world.
Data has become a catch-word over the last few years. It’s BIG, it drives things, and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s been accused of swinging elections and found to help cure cancer. It’s the new oil.
Anonymous navigation data also holds a great power. For hundreds of years we’ve been improving our healthcare, businesses, and movement of people through a combination of guesswork and the scientific research. Results are slow to come and never seem to capture the whole picture.
With a global population of over 7,000,000,000 people, and rising; the world can’t wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes. Gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately.
How do people move around your hospital? Where are specific pieces of equipment used most? What route do patients take to the car park? When are people most likely to buy food? Which areas are least often visited?
Data can help answer all of these questions and many more.
And hospitals can use this data to optimise their environments to improve the patient experience, save money, and effectively allocate medical equipment.
There are almost infinite ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our lives. The only limit is our imagination
If you need a specialist piece of equipment, but it’s not where it should be, for example, location data can help you track it down. Perhaps you find that some equipment is regularly moving long distances through the hospital building, in which case it might save time and money to buy a second machine.
Or perhaps patient footfall is highest near one particular food outlet. Hospital administrators could then demonstrate this with data and charge more for rental of that space.
There are almost infinite ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our lives. The only limit is our imagination.