Report: Building a Smarter Healthcare Facility

By Matt Phillion

There’s nothing simple about running a healthcare facility. With complex moving parts creating an operationally challenging environment, hospitals can’t afford to be inefficient or lag behind. How healthcare organizations use resources today is key to how they will evolve into the future.

The industry is undergoing a sea change. Healthcare was already working toward integrating systems for better interconnectivity and interoperability, and the COVID-19 pandemic amplified this initiative. Facilities old and new are striving to be more agile, tightly woven, and efficient. Organizations are looking to improve not just medical records, but physical operations as well, from HVAC to physical security and beyond.

But how can facility managers influence the monitoring, alignment, and management of these disparate systems? The pressure is on to move fast and increase efficiency as priorities shift during a global pandemic, even while backlogs of less-urgent procedures have slowed revenue.

A new report from Honeywell gives healthcare facility managers a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns after more than a year of weathering the pandemic. The report found that 94% of healthcare managers said remote management is important for operational efficiency. Only one in four respondents have such a system in place, but 26% said they plan on investing in this technology over the next year to 18 months.

The report, Rethinking Healthcare Facilities as Integrated Entities, looks at the challenges, concerns, and priorities of healthcare facility managers in the U.S., China, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. It’s the fourth in a series of reports on healthcare building trends.

According to respondents, occupational safety also ranked high, with 95% saying robust life safety systems are important for providing value to occupants. Also rated over 90% were the following:

  • Energy efficiency and sustainable solutions (94%)
  • Improved indoor air quality (93%)
  • Flexible spaces converted based on occupant needs (93%)

Returning to the topic of remote management, China and Saudi Arabia almost unanimously said remote management is important, both ranking it at 99%.

As mentioned, only 25% of respondents have remote management in place. Other areas that got the lowest percentage of responses included real-time location tracking of people and assets (26%), contactless building entry (33%), and aspirating smoke detection (34%).

The impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 has left its mark on nearly every aspect of healthcare, and certainly on the management of healthcare facilities.

“The last years [have] been very reactive, and COVID-19 has taught facility operators to be more agile,” said Karen Langstaff, chief of facility planning with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Center in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. “Moving forward, we really need to share best practices, especially with all the new technology coming at us. If we collaborate and connect, we’ll be better able to sort out what will give us the best return on investment and what will really make a difference to our facilities and patients. We’ll also be in a better position to deal with whatever the next wave of the pandemic throws at us.”

According to the Honeywell report, COVID-19 has raised awareness of predictive maintenance analytics as a means to improve efficiency, cut costs, and reduce the risks of failures and downtime.

Only 30% of respondents have predictive maintenance analytics in place, but another 30% plan to implement them in the next 12–18 months. Also on the improvement list in that time frame:

  • Air quality solutions (28%)
  • Fire systems software providing greater insights (28%)
  • Aspirating smoke detection (28%)

Additionally, of the five improvements respondents selected as most beneficial to occupants (reduced downtime, improved air quality, better prediction or identification of problems, improved occupational productivity, and better monitoring of efficiency), predictive maintenance contributes to four.

Growing interest in integrated capabilities

While managers clearly have the will to improve processes, the survey found that three in four respondents struggle to secure the financial resources they need, especially with COVID-19 shutting down profitable procedures such as elective surgeries. And funding isn’t just a concern with improvements and upgrades—nearly as many (74%) said they worry about keeping up with growing capacity needs.

Additional top concerns include lockdown monitoring, backup system and redundancy preparedness, and air filtration and containment capture.

Respondents in the U.S. specifically voiced concerns about funding, with 84% listing it as their top concern.

Prioritizing need during, and after, a pandemic

Improving patient satisfaction, in spite of other challenges, remains top of mind for respondents, with 31% listing it as their top priority in the next 12–18 months. Improving efficiency was close on its heels at 29%, followed by improved occupant safety (26%), improved automation, efficiency, or sustainability (26%), improved fire and life safety systems (25%), and improved ability to access and act on information (25%).

Looking to the future, survey respondents noted that smart building, with integrated systems and analytics, is necessary to realize their goals for operational efficiency improvements. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they were more willing to invest in smart building technologies now than before the pandemic.

All of these improvements tie together: 56% of respondents noted that, when planning for smart building, improving staff productivity and building operations should be at the forefront. Nearly as many (54%) put sustainable building energy use ahead of staff productivity and building operations.

Efficiency was pivotal to many respondents: 52% listed managing all building systems through a single platform as a top priority.

The rise of smart healthcare

All of these desired improvements add up to a smarter, more connected facility—and these types of facilities have been shown to improve patient care and clinical outcomes, lower healthcare-acquired infections, and increase overall efficiency. The more efficient the facility, the better staff are able to deal with patients and cases—and drive greater patient satisfaction.

The report calls out one specific case: Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth, Australia. A new project, it ran into many of the same pitfalls as older healthcare facilities, with legacy systems getting in the way of achieving modern technical success.

The hospital, which spans four city blocks, integrated 65 individual systems into a single platform that connected 1,000 card readers, more than 300 closed-circuit cameras, and 200 intercoms in one interface. This wove monitoring and control, reporting, alarm management, and analysis into a single pane of glass—achieving the sort of integrated, smart facility survey respondents are looking for.

“Connected healthcare facilities have been shown to improve patient care, clinical outcomes, and operational efficiency,” said Keith Fisher, vice president, global services, Honeywell Building Technologies. “Increasing operational insight can help them optimize the use of their assets to avoid bottlenecks, cut waiting times, and upgrade the overall patient experience. Many of these goals can be achieved by upgrading an existing building management system without the need to rip and replace. This is important as facilities are increasingly expected to improve day-to-day outcomes and enhance efficiencies with little or no increase in budgets.”

Matt Phillion is a freelance writer covering healthcare, cybersecurity, and more. He can be reached at