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Pulse Magazine

On the move

February 9, 2018

Simon Babes, Managing Director of Movement Strategies, examines the role of the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the movement of people and assets around a building.

It is estimated that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet. This ecosystem of devices is called the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) and it will include a wide range of technology, including sensors (collecting the data), gateways (transmitting the data) and platforms (hosting applications delivering services, using the data).

One category of services to be delivered by the IoT are Location Based Services (LBS). LBS use position data to deliver a service to an individual, usually in real time. In hospitals, as in shopping centres, this might provide wayfinding information, helping people to navigate successfully through the environment.

Whether real time services are being offered or not, it is very common for this location data to be stored. Large networks are collecting very ‘big data’ sets; for example, a mobile phone network in the UK typically collects around 7 billion data points every day. These datasets enable a picture of historical movement patterns to be delivered, for both people and assets. For a trust, this analysis might support the development of a demand matrix for multiple sites, by time of day and by transport mode.

A significant number of devices are deployed across hospitals and an increasing number are ‘connected devices’, part of the IoT. Much of this data will be personal data and hence it will be treated in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which will come into effect on 25 May 2018.

A recent trend in hospitals and other medical buildings is the installation of Wi-Fi networks, offering staff, patients, contractors and visitors an opportunity to connect devices, either for secure IT services, entertainment (data streaming services including TV, film and radio) or information services. Access Points (AP) are deployed across a hospital site at a density commensurate with the type of services being delivered; low density levels provide connectivity in key areas. Higher density levels provide excellent connectivity across the site, although the recent trend is to install AP arrays at very high density level, to enable LBS applications.

There are a growing number of LBS applications being delivered across hospitals in UK and abroad. Some early studies have captured location data of key members of staff and high value assets. The analysis of these historical data sets allows the movement patterns to be examined, with the objective of identifying opportunities to optimise a specific process or layout. This analysis can be particularly insightful for major projects, where a new hospital or specialist unit is being designed and delivered. The efficient movement of staff and assets within the new facility, or the interface with existing facilities, is a key design objective. If the project is being delivered via a Private Finance Initiative (PFI), these movement metrics may even feed into Key Performance Indicators and payment mechanisms.

For visitors, LBS applications offering a real time wayfinding capability are already proving popular in other sectors, including retail, for large shopping centres. Augmented Reality (AR) based Apps are now available on smart phones, which is capable of directing a visitor from the reception area to any department, ward or even bed in a hospital. The AR solution superimposes an arrow the screen of the smart phone when the user holds the device in front of them, showing them which way to walk.

We will undoubtedly continue to see an exponential growth in the volume of data collected in hospitals over the next few years, which will provide the opportunity to deliver an exciting range of new services to hospital stakeholders; the challenge is the development and delivery of commercially viable solutions.

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