This article was published in German on Oct, 7th 2022 here:
Here is an auto-translation:
Essen University Hospital shows how a hospital can become fit for the future. The path to a smart hospital is feasible, explains Jens Kögler, Healthcare Industry Director EMEA at VMware, in a guest article.
by Dr. Jakob Jung on October 7, 2022 , 3:46 pm
In the healthcare sector, efficient measures can be vital for survival. Intelligent solutions that help with patient care or apps that support doctors in making diagnoses are just two of many effective measures that turn a hospital into a smart hospital. The University Medical Center Essen (UME) has already begun the process of becoming such a Smart Hospital.
Digitization is a core task in the healthcare sector and also represents one of the greatest challenges of the coming years. The federal and state governments have joined forces and with the Hospital Future Act and are providing 4.3 billion euros for the digital transformation of German hospitals. Hospitals now have a duty to implement these funds in a targeted manner and within the challenging timeframes in the respective funding acts. Three important development steps for this are the digitization of the emergency room, the provision of a patient portal or cyber security.
Artificial intelligence in medicine
The patient file and all the information it contains, such as insured and movement data, laboratory results, findings and diagnoses, but also hospital-wide data such as bed utilization or the billing system, are indispensable for a hospital. At the same time, however, enormous amounts of data are generated that have to be processed. Especially in large hospitals, the mountains of data grow to great heights. With its 10,000 employees, Essen University Hospital (UME) treats around 300,000 outpatients and 70,000 inpatients every year. In the future, artificial intelligence will be used to support hospital staff in making diagnoses and creating treatment plans, and to optimize workflows. Experience with artificial intelligence is being evaluated in Essen by the Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (IKIM), one of the first institutes for AI in Germany. Since 2019, it has been part of the Medical Faculty of the University of Duisburg Essen and the UME, with the aim of scientifically analyzing and further developing the possibilities of artificial intelligence in medicine and making them useful for patient care.
Modernization forms the foundation
In addition to process-related and organizational changes, Essen’s path to becoming a smart hospital primarily involved modernizing its own IT. This is because constantly growing volumes of data and the simultaneous increase in expectations for agility, resilience and ever more specific security requirements are increasingly confronting traditional infrastructures with unsolvable tasks. It’s not just a matter of protecting patient data – ORs and emergency rooms must also be able to rely on the constant availability of infrastructure and data.
Much of what previously had to be done manually could be automated at Essen University Hospital: Huge amounts of data, apps as well as highly sensitive patient data can now be managed efficiently. The latter in particular is important for doctors and nursing staff in order to obtain all relevant information at lightning speed at crucial moments, which can save lives in an emergency. Modern applications are available for this purpose, allowing authorized persons to access virtual patient dashboards and the fully digitized patient file. But digitization also takes the strain off everyday hospital life: Applications, discharge management, bed capacity planning or internal processes such as surveys now no longer take place in paper form, but are carried out digitally.
Zero trust instead of leap of faith – security rethought
But modernization not only means greater efficiency and agility, it also grants greater security in digital operations. Because while an old-style infrastructure has to contend with an ever-increasing attack surface due to the growing number of digital systems (UME uses around 500 applications to process personal data alone), micro-segmentation, end-point protection and a zero-trust strategy can achieve precisely the opposite. Nowhere else are the security requirements and a functioning, modern infrastructure as essential as in a hospital, because patient data records are among the most coveted and lucrative on the Dark Net, containing not only personal and billing data, but also possibly sensitive information on individual medical histories.
It is therefore not only important to keep an eye on the General Data Protection Regulation, but also to protect the valuable data from unauthorized access by third parties. UME has also been targeted by cybercriminals in the past, but was able to successfully fend off these attacks. But this, and the incidents at other hospitals where this has not been successful, once again highlight the importance of cybersecurity in hospital operations.
Implementing a comprehensive security strategy ensures the hospital maintains a certain level of digital security and protects patient data across networks and devices. One proven measure of this strategy is the elimination of a prohibited list (blacklist) and the introduction of a permission list (whitelist) in its place. This grants access only to those actors who are explicitly permitted to do so. This zero-trust approach therefore does not assume that an actor is initially innocent until proven otherwise, but that this actor must now be authorized prior to use in order to gain access to the data.
How the path to the Smart Hospital succeeds
Modern applications and AI are helping to significantly improve the quality of patient care and hospital processes. Patients benefit from noticeably improved communication throughout the treatment process and even more personalized medicine in the future, which will ultimately lead to improved treatment success. The example of Essen University Hospital shows how the digital transformation of the healthcare sector can succeed. Technologies such as artificial intelligence must be used in a targeted manner in order to be able to process the excess of information and to support clinical staff in their work in the best possible way. A scalable, future-proof and easy-to-manage IT platform is an important tool, without which the road to the smart hospital will be very rocky.
In addition, the many efforts, cooperations and initiatives in Essen also show that the right culture, support from top management, the right partnerships and networking are also needed in order not to lose sight of the path to a smart hospital.