This blog was published in German on Aug, 25th 2022 here:

Here is an auto-translation:

The University Medical Center Essen (UME) is pushing ahead with its digital transformation and is in the process of becoming a smart hospital. But what challenges lie along the way and how can the hospital overcome them?

Some of the most exciting innovations of the digital transformation are taking place in the healthcare sector. With the Hospital Future Act, the federal government wants to invest in the digitalisation of German hospitals and is making 3 billion euros available for this purpose. A further 1.3 billion will come from the Länder.

Now it is the hospitals’ turn to drive digitalisation forward. With the help of the possibilities of digital processes, it is hoped to raise patient care to a new level. At the same time, in probably no other sector is human contact with patients as important as in the health sector. The University Medical Centre Essen (UME) also had to master this balancing act on its way to becoming a smart hospital.

Laboratory findings, diagnostic results, bed occupancy – all this data is essential for smooth hospital operations.

There are two main aspects behind the term Smart Hospital:

  1. The hospital uses intelligent, innovative and digitalised services and applications that support clinical staff in patient care.
  2. IT-supported processes handle enormous amounts of data and enable hospital staff to focus on the patient and provide him or her with the best possible care.

Not being overwhelmed by huge amounts of data

The latter factor is essential for a modern hospital. In a large hospital, enormous amounts of data are generated every day. In the UME, 10,000 employees care for about 300,000 patients every year. Laboratory findings, diagnostic results or the current status of bed occupancy – all this data is essential for the smooth running of the hospital. Medical care has made great strides in recent years through the use of personalised data and artificial intelligence. These were so great, in fact, that Essen University Hospital founded the Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (IKIM) for this purpose.

But all the exponentially growing amounts of data come with an increasing administrative burden. Because big data mountains alone are not enough. Big Data must become Smart Data. To ensure the processing of the data, the decision was made in Essen to use an AI-based, scalable platform to take over the processing of these enormous amounts of data.

In this way, artificial intelligence supports staff in taking a creative role and acting instead of just reacting to new demands. In addition, cognitive computer systems help doctors make precise diagnoses and treatment plans based on them. This leaves more time for actual patient care while the AI takes care of the data in the background.

The top priority is security

Since these data volumes are highly sensitive patient data, some of which are communicated intersectorally between hospitals and practices, the security of this data is at the top of the priority list. In addition, the electronic patient record (ePa) has been implemented since 2021, which will be filled with doctor’s letters and laboratory values, among other things.

The hospital has been targeted by cyber criminals in the past.

Here, it is advantageous for the University Medical Centre Essen that its own hospital already relies on fully digitalised patient files. Apps play a decisive role in the smart hospital. The UME alone uses around 500 applications, many of which process personal data. Here, it is not only necessary to act in a DSGVO-compliant manner, but also to fend off attacks from hackers. After all, they know very well how valuable the patient data is.

In the past, Essen University Hospital has already been targeted by cyber criminals. Although these attacks were successfully repelled, they illustrate the enormous importance of cyber security in hospital operations. To counteract these attacks, UME relied on network virtualisation. This is a fundamental part of the overarching digital security strategy.

For example, it no longer uses a blacklist to keep malicious actors out of its network. Instead, a whitelist is maintained that only allows authorised users to access hospital data. This so-called zero-trust approach thus reverses the “burden of proof”. Instead of assuming that a user is innocent until proven otherwise, they now have to prove to the network that they have no malicious intent before being authorised.

Modern IT is the foundation

For UME, one of the most important steps towards a smart hospital, apart from the procedural and organisational changes, was the modernisation of its own IT. This is because traditional infrastructures are often overwhelmed by the large amounts of data and the simultaneously increased expectations of agility, resilience and increasingly specific security requirements. Yet nowhere else is a modern infrastructure as essential as in a hospital. At any time, the operating theatre or the emergency room must be able to rely on the constant availability of infrastructure and data.

Agility is the key to bringing research results quickly into practical application.

A fail-safe and resilient infrastructure is essential and saves lives in case of doubt. At the same time, all data is only useful if it is available to all relevant groups. Modern applications allow nursing staff and doctors to access all important patient data via virtual patient dashboards and the fully digitalised patient file. At the same time, these software applications are highly available and offer strong protection against failures.

Compared to classic applications, the update cycles of modern apps are significantly more frequent in order to make even minor enhancements and functions available immediately or to close security gaps promptly. It is precisely this agility that is the key to research results finding their way into practical applications ever more quickly. At the same time, technical and regulatory requirements can be met quickly. Whether in radiology or in administration, modern applications are a fundamental part of the IT in a smart hospital like UME, as they can noticeably improve the quality of patient care and the patient experience.

Together step by step to the Smart Hospital

The example of the Smart Hospital shows how great the potential of digitised healthcare is. However, digital transformation goes beyond the use of innovative technologies. Because the most important factor in healthcare is and remains the human being. Those who want to use the latest technology profitably in hospitals must create acceptance – among the staff and the patients.

Ultimately, they decide whether the road to the smart hospital is taken in the fast lane or on the hard shoulder. A transparent approach is essential for this. What data is collected, what is it used for and how is it ensured that it does not fall into the wrong hands? Those who involve all relevant stakeholders from the outset create broad acceptance for the digital transformation and thus pave the way to the smart hospital.

Jens Koegler

Jens Koegler is VMware's Healthcare Industry Director in EMEA. He is helping our healthcare customers develop and run modern applications to drive innovation and ensure better patient care through a digital foundation that includes data center, hybrid cloud, mobile, networking and security technologies. VMware plays a strategic role in the healthcare industry. Its leading innovations in enterprise software help ensure consistent patient care and reduce IT access time for healthcare professionals so they can spend more time with their patients. Jens plays a key role in helping customers understand how new applications, devices, the latest IT technologies and digital transformation are driving innovation in healthcare.