Enabling the digital future of healthcare

 |   Ashlea Lynch

Digital Twin

With healthcare providers always seeking to maximise stretched resources, asBUILT’s collaboration with Microsoft is providing futuristic solutions that could transform the way our hospitals are built and operated – and ultimately make healthcare more efficient and affordable.

Its work at Auckland Hospital combines smart technology to digitise the hospital and create a spatial foundation that not only aligns stakeholders through design, construction and maintenance tasks, but also provides a digital footprint of all the hospital’s physical assets, capturing data from intelligent IOT devices and hosting it on a secure and accessible Azure cloud platform. This enables the hospital’s managers to understand exactly what resources are available and how to optimise the way spaces are used, while saving costs for frontline healthcare.

Hospital emergency departments are almost a metaphor for the entire healthcare sector. With patients rapidly coming and going, each with unique circumstances, vital decisions need to be made based on fast-changing information, and what happened five minutes ago is forgotten as everyone focuses on the situation unfolding in front of them.

For many hospitals and private healthcare providers across New Zealand, managing their physical environment is a similar story. In the rapidly evolving health sector, floor plans and blueprints have gradually become outdated or gone missing, as computer software becomes obsolete, buildings are extended or renovated, different companies manage the property’s maintenance or documents are lost. The upshot is that many large hospitals don’t know exactly what assets they have, what condition they are in, or how they are used. For example, which departments occupy which footprint and does the radiology department require more or less floor space than ophthalmology? Is there a room on Level Two that isn’t used much? And if another building were to be constructed on this site, is there already infrastructure hidden underneath the surface from decades earlier?

In a time when healthcare providers’ budgets are stretched, it’s more important than ever to maximise operational efficiencies. Health Minister David Clark acknowledged a budget deficit of more than $1 billion across the sector in late 2019, and Auckland Hospital has joined the ranks of those starting charitable foundations in order to raise the necessary funds for much-needed services.

To help meet these challenges, digital engineering and software company asBUILT is helping usher in a new era of spatially intelligent healthcare, making it easy for hospitals to see and store property information in the cloud and make their resources go further.

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Doing more with digital twins

It all starts with creating a digital twin. Imagine a digital model that lets you “skin” the building to reveal its pipes and internal infrastructure, then overlay that with crisp 360-degree graphics that look exactly like the real interior of each room.

At Auckland Hospital, asBUILT has conducted one of the largest digitisation capture projects in the country. It surveyed existing buildings using mobile cameras, drones and 3D laser scanners to create an accurate 3D model of each and every part of the entire hospital, from wards to medical equipment, to plant rooms and tunnels. To improve efficiency and minimise downtime, digital tags can be added that provide useful information such as when medical equipment, lighting or air conditioning units have expiring warranties, were last serviced or are due for replacement.

Keeping the twin in a single Azure-based database (the asBUILT Vault) provides one easily accessed source of truth to connect all the hospital’s stakeholders, and it can be immediately updated and shared. No more piecemeal blueprints lying forgotten in a filing cabinet or ancient computer file, and no need for an architect’s brain and imagination to understand flat drawings in three dimensions.

“Combined with other technologies such as IoT and data analytics, having a precise replica of their hospital enables healthcare providers to realise efficiencies of operation and management like never before,” says David Burton, Managing Director of asBUILT.

“Just 2 per cent of the total cost throughout a building’s lifecycle is design and planning, 10 per cent is construction, and circa 88 per cent is maintenance and operating costs. More and more asset owners are becoming aware that while a digitised spatial database carries an upfront cost, it saves more in the longer term. Anything that can be done to reduce those costs is going to enable more money to be spent on frontline healthcare.”

Virtual hospitals, real-world applications

That comes down to understanding better how each hospital’s resources are being used. asBUILT technology enables hospital managers to see for the first time how much space each area of the hospital requires, informing future development decisions. Smart technology can also monitor how space is being used and simulate different scenarios in order to optimise care. In future this will enable better budget allocation and the creation of room schedules, reducing downtime and making more effective use of each space.

Meanwhile, new staff, maintenance workers or decision-makers can “walk through” a complete virtual hospital, learning new policy and procedures, seeing where to install or maintain equipment or monitor how people are using in the space in real time, without having to travel to the site or disrupt the hospital’s daily operations. Maintenance workers can also do a ‘digital recce’ in order to make more accurate job costings, perform job planning and help prevent budget overruns.

A digital hospital can also be built without a single spadeful of dirt being dug, saving costs before the hospital actually exists. Instead of interpreting what a building will look like based on a two-dimensional drawing, health boards and other stakeholders can immerse themselves in the digital version, see what the final product will look like and test whether it will be fit for purpose through digital scenarios. asBUILT’s New Zealand-first Engage 360 screen, a portable 7m diameter, 360-degree screen, is a unique addition that allows stakeholders to literally stand “inside” the 3D building. Its effectiveness as a communication tool means expensive alterations are a thing of the past.

“Total group immersion enables better communication, especially as this isn’t a solo experience, unlike traditional augmented reality,” Burton says. “Being able to gauge others’ reactions and ask questions in the moment makes for a much more useful experience. Its applications as a stakeholder engagement tool are really exciting, enabling truly informed public feedback on proposed new facilities.”

Microsoft Public Sector Director Emma Barrett is excited about the applications for public healthcare, where providers are already looking at ways to improve both access to health services and patient outcomes through digital technologies.

“Construction and maintenance of facilities is a huge expense for DHBs and other healthcare providers, and every dollar they can save on these processes is money that can be reinvested in New Zealanders’ health. What’s special about the solution asBUILT has created is that it manages to save build and ongoing maintenance costs and maximise health and safety on site, yet also minimises any construction defects and creates new platforms for community engagement.

We see so much opportunity across the healthcare sector for this kind of technology, which can benefit every one of us,” she says.

What next for digitised healthcare?

With a digital twin providing a precise virtual map of the building, hospitals could soon see autonomous robots moving medicines and equipment to where they need to be, using geolocation and IoT sensors. Wireless systems would enable robots to communicate with the facility’s automatic doors and lifts, so medical staff could spend more time with patients or on important operational tasks. This information would then be stored in Microsoft’s cloud, available through the asBUILT Vault throughout the lifecycle of the hospitals.

Already, the digital future is looking exciting. asBUILT is working with Auckland and Waitemata District Health Boards to manage the construction of new facilities and create a digital twin to align all stakeholders. From day one, sharing the 3D plans with every member of the supply chain has provided better transparency, health and safety compliance and cost efficiencies, and is ensuring everything is installed where it should be. asBUILT is helping asset owners create a smarter built world – digitally.

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