With ageing populations and increasing numbers of people living with multiple comorbidities, demand on health and social care services is increasing. To keep these services affordable, efficiency must be increased with greater use of smart technology.

According to the UK’s “Bengoa report”, Northern Ireland’s population will age significantly over the next few decades; between 1971 and 2015, the number of people aged 65+ per 100 people aged 16-64 increased from 19 to 24, but this figure will increase by an average of around 5.5 per decade between 2015 and 2061. While these figures are specifically for Northern Ireland, the same pattern of rapid aging is seen across many Western countries.

The report also shows that from age 40 onwards, the percentage of people with zero morbidities drops fairly linearly with age from around 80% for 40-49 year olds to around 10% for people aged 90+, and that the proportion of people with multiple comorbidities, and the average number of comorbidities per person within this group, increases with age too.

The effect of this on average health and social care costs is significant. According to the report, between the ages of 5 and 54, the average cost per person changes little with age. However, beyond this age the cost increases rapidly with age, with 75-79 year olds and over the 85s costing, on average, 3 and 7 times as much respectively as 55-59 year olds. Combined with the figures for the increasing proportion of society being composed of the 65+ age group, this gives an indication of the likely effect on required health and social services spending.

To an extent, this increasing demand can be mitigated by smarter use of technology, for instance by using wearables to monitor patient’s vital signs rather than having a medic taking manual measurements. Some other examples of using technology to cut costs are given below.

Access Control
An obvious way in which technology can play a role in medical facilities is in using electronic access control systems to ensure that only authorised people (whether staff or, in some cases, registered patients) have access to sensitive areas of the buildings, to equipment and supplies and to data.

Asset Tracking
Hospitals and other medical facilities have many valuable assets that are often portable (including medical diagnostics equipment, beds and wheelchairs, etc). Some losses are inevitable, and locating equipment that has not been correctly returned to it’s storage location can be time-consuming or can lead to the purchase of unnecessary duplicates. An electronic asset tracking system, perhaps based on Bluetooth® beacons, can result in reduced removals and faster locating of unreturned items. They can also be used to asses the usage frequency of different pieces of equipment in order to gauge the level of utilisation.

Asset tracking systems can also be used to quickly locate staff members and to ensure that the correct medications and blood products are used.

Automated Check-In and Patient Assistance
Rather than every patient having to report to a staffed check-in desk, technological solutions can be used to allow patients to check themselves in. Systems can also be put in place to help the patient navigate themselves around the hospital – such as using indoor mapping systems to provide real-time directions to the correct ward or department – and to locate any patients who have checked in but not reached their appointment.

Data Logging
Traditionally, many patient health readings (such as blood pressure and heart rate) have been taken manually by medical staff and written down by hand. This can be time consuming (especially when multiple or regular readings are required) and error-prone. Instead, such measurements can be taken automatically by wearables (such as electronic stethoscopes, glucose monitors and blood pressure equipment), with the results being stored in centralised databases for easy retrieval and long-term monitoring.

This can be extended to out-patients and the general public too, to allow for long-term logging and monitoring of patients’ vital signs, activity levels, and so on to both monitor the progress of long-term conditions and for early warning of any new, undiagnosed conditions.

Smarter, Connected Equipment
By connecting various electronic sensors (such as the wearables mentioned above) and electronic treatment delivery equipment into combined smart systems, the treatment being received by the patient can be automatically adjusted in real-time based on the patient’s response. For example, the rate of an IV drip can be adjusted automatically in response to changes in the patient’s blood sugar levels.

Our Expertise
As well as being specialists in low-power wireless communications, we have contributed to the development of a number of wearables (such as the world’s first Bluetooth®-enabled wearable intelligent camera) and other IoT products. We also have good experience of writing Bluetooth-connected companion smartphone apps for Android and iOS, and of developing IoT-to-cloud gateways.

How We Can Help You
With our in-depth knowledge of the Bluetooth® and Bluetooth® Low Energy protocols, the Bluetooth industry, low-power wireless device manufacturing, embedded software development and smartphone companion app development, we are ideally placed to help you develop the products you want.