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How IoT can improve processes and lower costs at hospitals [PODCAST]

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The Hospital Finance Podcast

In this episode, we are joined by Ron Rock, CEO of Microshare, to discuss how the internet of things (IoT) can improve processes and lower costs at hospitals.      

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Highlights of this episode include:

  • Background on asset zoning and how it improves operations and turnaround times.
  • How contact tracing can become more accurate and cost effective.
  • How burgeoning IoT technologies have provided services not available in the last five years.
  • What hospitals should look for when evaluating IoT solutions.
  • And more… 

Mike Passanante: Hi, this is Mike Passanante and welcome back to the award-winning Hospital Finance Podcast®. As hospitals adapt to new challenges and financial realities, burgeoning IoT technologies are driving greater levels of efficiency while potentially driving down costs. To talk about some of the latest applications addressing hospital concerns, I’m joined by Ron Rock, CEO of Microshare. Ron, welcome to the show.

Ron Rock: Thanks, my pleasure to be here.

Mike: Ron, for those who may not be familiar with Microshare, can you tell us a bit about what you do there?

Ron: Sure. Microshare, an eight-year-old company focusing on – going to use a big word here – digital twinning. What does that mean? Digital twinning is creating a virtual replica of our physical world, using technology, using sensors. And we do this to create operational efficiencies and find new ways to do things, new ways to save money, new ways to– even provide new services and new revenue streams. So Microshare does that primarily in commercial real estate and we include in commercial real estate hospitals without touching the patient, which is one of the reasons we’re here to talk today.

Mike: Fantastic. So there’s a couple of areas that you and I have talked about online that I thought would be particularly interesting for the show. So let’s start off by talking about asset zoning. Can you explain what that is and how it improves operations in terms of costs, turnaround time in treatment spaces, and things like that?

Ron: Sure. So as part of our solution, we have a platform that allows all kinds of sensors to talk to the same technology platform. What that means is that I can take things like occupancy, and environmental monitoring, and leak detection. As one of my customers said once, he said, “Ron, I don’t want smart stuff. I want a smart building.” And in the process of adding all these sensors, about three years ago, we started providing indoor asset tracking. If you think about it, indoor asset tracking prior to now, always typically involved RFID. It was really expensive. I needed to tear open walls and I needed to put a very expensive infrastructure in place. As part of our solution, we have these very low-cost sensors that we put on hospital equipment that allow hospital employees and patients to find important assets much more quickly. So the big use cases– we started with the NHS in the UK, the big use cases, Mike, were tracking hospital beds. Often, as I’m sure many of your listeners know, my relationship with my bed is more important than my relationship with my room. If a patient has a certain kind of illness, I need to be able to track, is that patient in radiology? Did they come up from radiology to the right department? Was it cleaned properly based on the patient turnover? So it started out with asset tracking, making sure that we were keeping track of, at a very granular level, where that bed is at all times. But then we expanded to wheelchairs, infusion machines, ventilators, which, of course, have been really important in this COVID world. And so knowing real-time where my equipment are so that– you think about the the servicing of patients, the throughput, all of this is time and money. And the fun one was when we started tracking wheelchairs. So as you know, we can’t– in most hospitals in the US and Europe, I can’t discharge a patient without a wheelchair. And the amount of time that nurses and orderlies spend looking for wheelchairs. Care to take a guess on who the culprit is, where most of the wheelchairs are stored? Maternity.

Mike: Yeah. That makes sense.

Ron: Maternity. That’s right. They’re hiding. And so we were able to begin tracking the flow of wheelchairs, but we did something else really cool at John Cook’s Hospital over in the UK. We built a mobile app. So if you’re a father pulling up to the hospital in a panic, you can look and know what entrance has wheelchairs. So as you pull up to the door, you know that you’re going to be able to get your wife in the door or your significant other as quickly as possible. So those kinds of efficiencies ended up having a much bigger impact than we thought, and we were able to eliminate all the wasted time looking for those things. And then obviously, finally, with ventilators, that’s become a very hot topic for hospitals to track right now, given the overall shortage and the demand.

Mike: And not only in efficiency, but as you increased that turnaround time, you’re managing your costs better too, right?

Ron: Well, absolutely. I mean, again, going back to– I can’t discharge a patient without a wheelchair. And we had one hospital administrator tell us what a dramatic improvement it made, because at times they would be wasting as much as 45 minutes tracking down wheelchairs for a patient who’s waiting in the room to be discharged. Well, take 45 minutes times the number of beds, times the number of rooms in a hospital, that adds up. And again, it’s all about throughput.

Mike: You bet. Ron, let’s talk about contact tracing. That’s a term that many of us have gotten familiar with since COVID entered the picture about a year ago. What solutions are available now to improve accuracy and lower the cost of contact tracing?

Ron: So it’s interesting to talk about that on the heels of asset zoning. We didn’t have a contact tracing solution 12 months ago. I don’t imagine anybody did. Frankly, none of us knew what contract tracing was a year ago. And suddenly, as you said, everybody now was talking about it. The World Health Organization defined a contact event as two people closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes. That’s considered a contact event. And the demand for contact tracing grew out of us trying to track the progression of the virus in particular communities or environments. And so if somebody got sick with COVID, the standard historical way was to sit down and interview you. Somebody with a clipboard, a laptop, and say, Mike, who have you had a contact event in the last two weeks? Well, most adults can figure out what they did yesterday, maybe even two days ago. But beyond that, hey, last Tuesday at noon, where were you? And was anybody within six feet of you for more than 15 minutes? And so we used our indoor asset zoning technology, the same badges that we were using to track hospital beds and infusion machines. And with minor modification on the software, we were able to announce a contact tracing solution. And the contact tracing is unique because it’s a wearable device. Some of the competition came out– well, Google and Apple most notably, and said, hey, we’re going to use your smartphones for contact tracing. Well, that was received with lots of backlash that started in the government in Germany, then the government in France, then all kinds of unions. We don’t necessarily feel comfortable about our employer or our union or our community having contact tracing on the same device that has all my personal information. So with Microshare, what we do is we provide wearable devices that really do two things. One is they record contact events anonymously. And secondly, they record where in the building you go. So if tomorrow, I call in sick with COVID-19, Mike, you would get a notification from HR and say, “Hey, Mike, you had a contact event with somebody in the last two weeks who’s tested for COVID.” So then it’ll tell you that Ron tested with COVID, and we don’t keep Ron or Mike’s name in our system. We simply provide badges and tracking. The second thing that we do is we track where you’ve been in the facility. So now I can say, “Look, Ron’s only been in the cafeteria, the second-floor conference room right near his office.” So I isolate part of the facility and deep clean it as opposed to try and shut down and deep clean the entire facility. So there are the two things that we do with contact tracing. Because it’s anonymous, because it’s a wearable, because it’s using that same technology platform that all of our other sensors use, we have found explosive uptake in people wanting our contact tracing. And primarily, Mike, it’s been in facilities where working from home isn’t an option. So it’s factories, warehouses, coal mines, utility plants, and, yes, hospitals. Hospital employees are having contact events all the time with their patients, but they’re also having contact events with lots of hospital support staff that are not having direct contact with patients. So being able to track that proximity and provide that kind of safety infrastructure for the staff is really where we’re finding a lot of use cases.

Mike: That makes a lot of sense. And we talked before, you mentioned that these types of services really couldn’t be delivered as efficiently, say, five years ago. What’s different now?

Ron: Well, that’s a good point. I mean, we talk about sensors and gathering data. And at the surface, it’s really simple. I like to use the analogy of a car. We all know what our cars look like and drive, and we like to pick the color and some of the gadgets inside. But when you open up the hood, there’s a whole lot of complexity. There’s a lot of sophistication under the hood and most of us are isolated from that. Well, the kind of things we’re talking about are no different, assuming you’ve even got a sensor that senses what you want. How does that sensor get powered? Do I need to tear open the walls? Do I need to plug it in? Is it somewhere where people are going to steal it? What about security? Is that data encrypted? How do I make sure that somebody isn’t stealing that data along the way? Does it open up a new door to my back-end mainframes and prevent suddenly give me a security risk that didn’t exist before? Where do I store that data? Do I have systems lying around the hospital that just happen to have some free disk space? How do I get the data there? And then, of course, with all of the sensors, each one of them has a different data format and different security protocol, different levels of encryption. And so it’s a real mess. And so we’ve been able to take the best of breed of sensors and infrastructure, and these sensors weren’t even being manufactured five years ago because there was no global standard. Now we’re seeing standards evolve and people are starting to gravitate towards them. The other big development, Mike, is that companies like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Watson, Google Cloud, all now are putting in place IoT infrastructure. So suddenly what would have cost me a million dollars in six months, just to turn the on switch. I can be up and running in some of these cloud infrastructures in 30 to 60 days for hundreds of dollars a month, almost free, I like to say. So the combination of low-cost sensors, along with cloud infrastructure, makes these kind of solutions that we’re talking about, I like to say they’re disruptively cheap. You couldn’t even imagine doing these kind of projects five years ago because of just all the complexities that we just talked about. And one other point, just as we were talking about contact tracing and if we’re talking about asset zoning, the ROI for these kinds of things, one major event where you have to send half of your staff home and deep clean the entire facility. One event costs more than what you’re going to spend for a year, providing all the kind of services that I’m talking about. So we think that’s the real innovative, disruptive event that’s happening in this space. Costs are plummeting, capabilities are rising. You’ve got companies like IBM and Microsoft standing there providing you world-class reliable infrastructure, and that creates a big disruptive moment, I think, for all of us in the industry.

Mike: That’s very cool. Ron, what should hospitals be looking at as they evaluate these types of solutions, especially as it relates to cost-benefit analysis?

Ron: Well, I think we touched on a lot of them. One of the tempting mistakes that I see people fall down, whether it be a hospital or a college campus or even a city, is that there are historically lots of single-point solutions in the marketplace. I like to call them one-hit wonders. Now there are companies that do just refrigeration, and they do refrigeration really well, and you’ll use them to monitor the blood refrigeration units, 7 by 24, to make sure that there’s no contamination. Or there are companies that do just CO2 monitoring, and monitor the quality of the air. You see a lot of individual solutions out there where you have smart toilet paper dispensers or smart soap dispensers, and they notify staff when these things are empty, but the minute you start to really dive into these, what you learn is, I’ll go back to what my customers said, smart stuff is interesting, but a smart hospital allows me as a CFO to begin driving real insights and efficiencies into how I’m running my operation. And we had a client in Dublin, Ireland, who had a proprietary CO2 monitoring system. It was state of the art. They spent a lot of money on it. They tore it out, and they put in our CO2 monitoring, which was nowhere near as sophisticated, but they were interested in the CO2 along with occupancy, along with air quality, along with Legionella reporting, and they wanted to see a complete view of their enterprise on one single pane of glass. Hospitals have the same thing. There’s a lot of really good technology out there, and increasingly, though, I want my wheelchairs and my elevator systems and my security systems and whereabouts of my hospital beds and the whereabouts of my infusion machines, I want all that working together because we consume all of those components to create one experience. And so I need to make sure that I can easily consume all of that data in the way I want to see it. So I think the biggest advice I have is that– realize that you’re looking for a platform solution. You want to make sure that you can grow and expand into as many use cases as you can imagine. And the customer journey that we see across the board, Mike, is that people get so much smarter about this stuff three, six and nine months after they start seeing some data flow. The minute you start seeing real-time data in your hospital, your imagination goes wild. Oh, my gosh. What if I could marry the number of cars coming into my parking lot to give people a heads-up in the cafeteria that we’re going to have to expand the amount of food that’s available right now? What if I could look at the weather forecast and based on weather forecast, staff out my cleaning staff and my support staff for the rest of this week, so beginning to look at all these different combinations of variable public and private data. And it’s so fun to watch, people get so excited, but you can’t even– I can tell these stories and people can understand them, but the minute you start to live it and breathe it, the excitement grows, and you want to make sure you’ve got a platform and a strategy that’s going to let you cost effectively grow as your vision grows.

Mike: Great advice, Ron. If someone wanted to find out more about what you do at Microshare, where can they go?

Ron: So you can come to our website, microshare.io. Again, that’s www.microshare.io. We’ve got some great use-case studies in there around hospitals, some of the fun stuff we’re doing in the UK. We also have some hospitals now in the US, very large hospitals looking to pick up with our asset zoning and our indoor air quality and occupancy monitoring. So you can get a lot of great detail on our website.

Mike: Ron Rock, thanks for joining us today on the Hospital Finance Podcast.

Ron: Thank you, Mike. Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.


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