Smart hospitals that automate tasks with robots, and connect doctors and nurses with their patients by smartphone are just around the corner. Wait. They’re already here in some places. So the future is now. Already. We take a look at this trend and how it affects the revenue cycle.

Smart Hospitals are on the way with many innovations.

The future is now as smart hospitals continue to automate, innovate, and escalate both patient satisfaction and revenue cycle solutions.

“Hospitals are seeking ways to improve their productivity and efficiency, in order to reduce operational costs and therefore, improve margins. While hospitals are busy doing this, the patient is evolving to be a consumer, whose needs and preferences need to be addressed to achieve optimal ‘customer satisfaction’, a notion hitherto alien to the healthcare industry (for the most part).” — from “Understanding smart hospitals and why most aren’t there yet” in Healthcare IT News

Healthcare IT News further explains the “smart hospital” concept like this: “The smart hospital framework involves three essential layers – data, insight, and access. Data is being collected even today, although not necessarily from all systems in a hospital, but is not integrated together to derive ‘smart’ insight, which can be done by feeding it into analytics or machine learning software. This insight must be accessible to the user – a doctor, a nurse, facilities personnel or any other stakeholder, through an interface including a desktop or a smartphone or similar handheld device, to empower them to make critical decisions faster, improving their efficiency.”

Becker’s Hospital Review has an article detailing how one-way hospitals can smarten their approach to revenue cycle management by focusing on customer-focused solutions for payments. The article details how VisitPay, a patient financial engagement tool, “integrates with health systems’ existing revenue cycle management solutions to help patients easily pay their bills.” The VisitPay company was started by a group who had worked in revenue cycle management for a large health system. According to their website, they worked closely with several health systems to identify and evaluate over 80 pain points in today’s payer-focused billing process. Then, they “applied proven thinking and approaches from consumer finance and payment processing to create a simple, powerful solution that fixes those issues without disturbing payor billing.” A client for VisitPay, Dr. David Pate, CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, reports that “Since first implementing VisitPay at St. Luke’s in 2014, we’ve seen a 48% increase in satisfaction with the billing experience, and a 70% increase in payments.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Southern California (USC), biomedical engineers have developed a system that tracks vital signs of patients from admission to discharge. It’s an “app”, in an era of increasing app use on smartphones.  This app connects patients’ health data to doctors and nurses. According to an article published by USC, one of the engineering students, Dinesh Seemakurty “founded the startup Stasis Labs with fellow USC Viterbi biomedical engineering alum Michael Maylahn to develop technology that tracks the vital signs of patients with custom bedside monitors. The system compiles that data in the cloud, making it available to doctors and nurses on smartphones, tablets and other devices.”

In a related article on “Future-proofing population health”, Healthcare IT News notes that “the need to simultaneously reduce healthcare costs and deliver optimal care are driving the expansion of population health management initiatives among hospitals today.” The general idea is to “start by understanding what products will best meet your particular needs, know that social determinants of health and patient-generated data will only become more and more important and recognize that as pop health programs evolve so too, will hospitals’ expectations for the technologies that underpin them.”

Where are all these smart hospital ideas headed? Well at one hospital in Canada, they have embraced the concept fully, already.  Health IT News explains that Humber River Valley Hospital in Canada is “North America’s first fully-digital hospital (with online appointment schedule, digital check-in, electronic path lab tests ordering and results), GE Healthcare Managed Equipment Services, a RIVA Chemotherapy Robot, Automated Pharmacy Systems (3/4th hospital supply chain automated) and a Patient Flow Command Center (currently in progress).”  Oddly, this did not lead to a reduction in employees.

The Toronto Star reports that “rather than using technological efficiencies to ax jobs, Humber River has surprisingly hired 700 more employees to staff the hospital’s 656 rooms —80 percent of which are single-patient.” In addition, Modern Healthcare reports that the result is a hospital that “doesn’t feel like a hospital” according to Dr. Rueben Devlin, Humber River’s CEO.   But even Humber River, which has automated about 75 percent of its back-of-the-hospital functions—such as pharmacy, laundry, and food delivery—acknowledged that it is still at the beginning of its digital evolution. “We’re not even close,” Devlin observes. “Next, the hospital is looking to “technology that makes healthcare more accessible for patients and more efficient, where doctor-patient interactions extend well beyond the confines of a 10-minute appointment.”