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Hospital resilience in the MENA: 7 ways smart systems can help

Hospital resilience—its flexibility and adaptability in trying circumstances—is more important than ever.

GCC countries are continuing to invest in hospital infrastructure in preparation for the current outbreak of COVID-19. As the recent pandemic that makes strikingly clear, hospital resilience—its flexibility and adaptability in trying circumstances—is more important than ever.

In a recent global panel discussion with 20 healthcare professionals on the topic of hospital resilience, among the ideas to emerge was that resilience means having the ability to anticipate and study the full scope of potential adverse events that can affect a health system, along with the infrastructure to resist, absorb or recover from each crisis. The UAE government is extensively expanding and upgrading its healthcare system to develop a robust world-class healthcare infrastructure.

The region’s healthcare providers best positioned for future extreme demands will be those whose clinical, administrative and operations systems are not operating in silo, but rather use collaborative platforms that address the entire value chain of a hospital from facilities and care delivery to administration. These providers would have the proper digital tools to quickly and effectively respond and adapt to whatever natural or man-made threats come their way.

In our area of focus–the non-clinical realm–this means planning for and working to optimise a built environment and facility operation management infrastructure that can change the normal operations to address the immediate needs while providing the close monitoring and feedback to continually fine-tune as needed. This includes the ability to perform remote monitoring and troubleshooting of systems that drive the organisation’s clinical, administrative and facility operations.

With today’s increasingly smart facility management systems, achieving a high level of hospital resilience is possible. Here, as a guide in thinking about facilities in the short- and long-term, we touch on the seven most important aspects of resilience in healthcare as they pertain to the built environment:

More remote operations

Just as hospitals are transitioning from in-person visits to telehealth to curb the spread of infectious diseases, resilient organisations will expand their capacity to manage and troubleshoot building operations remotely, reducing requirements for an on-site facility management team.

Power reliability and availability

Every health system must have resilience against grid instability. If power is lost from the grid, what redundancies does the system have in place to keep patients safe and clinical systems running without interruption? Organisations will use distributed energy resources, and leverage microgrids and other renewable technologies to ensure energy resilience on a moment’s notice in the event of a power outage.

Enhanced cybersecurity

Health systems tend to focus cybersecurity efforts on patient data, financial information and medical devices, but facility management systems are vulnerable as well. A cyberattack could shut down a facility completely. Resilience requires making sure that an end to end cybersecurity strategy is adopted, that covers both the Information Technology (IT) and all the Operating Technology (OT) environment from products and systems along with continuous monitoring and mitigation actions for any threats.

Increased asset protection

Facility operations are a core function in ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of patient care. An electrical network or building management system failure can stop a hospital’s ability to deliver that care. Resilient organisations will rely increasingly on proactive, predictive monitoring and preventative maintenance to anticipate and pre-emptively address any issues that could put clinical operations at risk.

Improved security management

A health system can’t be resilient if it isn’t secure. It must balance the need to create a welcoming and accessible environment for visitors with security and safety concerns, including the safety of the patients in its care. Resilient organisations will incorporate smart systems that can, for example, identify the movement of an infectious patient in the facility, and whom they have come into contact with, in order to alert appropriate staff to take appropriate action and reduce the spread of infection.

Risk mitigation and compliance

 The more resilient a health system, the more it is focused on reducing risk and complying with the appropriate regulations. Resilience, compliance and risk mitigation work symbiotically together.

Designing for hospital resilience

Resilient health systems will realise the importance of careful decision-making in achieving an effective balance between resilience and cost management. Every patient room in a hospital could be turned into a negative pressure room—but at what cost? Weighing cost considerations against flexibility and adaptability is the art and science of resilient design.

What could be the eighth step but stands alone as it pushes the boundary even further, is leveraging digital twin technologies. These platforms orchestrate data from the built environment with clinical information to create a safer, more comfortable experience for patients while also helping reduce energy spend. Coupled with advanced analytics, it enables the improvement of infrastructure resilience and reliability, while also being able to predict and prevent critical clinical events.

Health systems that incorporate innovations in facility management systems into their existing platforms with cost efficiency in mind will be the organisations that develop the resilience needed to withstand future uncertainty and rapid change.

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Marwan Zeidan

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