HK's IMC takes IoT in healthcare to next level

Gigi Onag / Computerworld Hong Kong
05 Feb 2018

The newly-opened International Medical Centre (IMC) in Hong Kong’s Central District is involved in a comprehensive on-going IoT healthcare project aimed at setting new standards in clinic management and patient care.

“We have a two-fold objective for convincing our senior management to approve the IoT project,” Henry Mo, chief information officer, First Shanghai Group told Computerworld Hong Kong. “One is to streamline operations and the other is to achieve cost savings while improving efficiency.”

IMC is the latest venture of Hong Kong-listed First Shanghai Group, whose core businesses are in the financial services, hotel and property, and direct investment.

According to Mo, one of the reasons for the group’s board amenable attitude towards the project is that successful track record of earlier IoT implementations in their other businesses.

Opened last October, IMC claims to be the first vertically integrated medical facility in Hong Kong. Located in a newly refurbished 21-story building along Des Voeux Road, it houses a specialist’s clinic, oncology center, family medicine center, Chinese medicine center, reproductive medicine center and an aesthetic and dental center. IMC is also equipped with the latest MRI and CT-Scan machines as well as other pieces of high-end medical equipment, allowing the facility to offer out-patient day surgeries.

One of its crown jewels that set it apart from the rest is its state-of-the-art Telemedicine Centre. It allows specialists to confer with peers overseas in real time for second opinion on complex cases.

“IMC wants to provide the highest quality of care and service in the private healthcare sector. It is committed to delivering a one-stop solution for all a patient’s medical needs,” Mo said.

“Furthermore, the vertical integration of IMC’s facilities enables us to efficiently deliver quality care across all clinical settings and to improve patient experience through our Centralized Reception, Centralized Management System, Centralized Patient Records, Centralized Payment Gateway, Centralized Referral System and Centralized Pharmacy & Laboratory.”

Getting the IoT off the ground

With IMC set for soft opening October 2017, Mo and his team of 10 people worked on a tight deadline of eight months to deliver the first phase of center’s IoT project.

“The project consists of various solutions. We had to be quick on our feet and decide which pieces get implemented first. We based our judgment on several criteria: level of difficulty for implementation, budget and delivery lead time.” Mo said.

First off the gate is the computer-controlled pneumatic tube system (PTS) that allows central pharmacy to deliver drugs, documents and lab specimens to and from laboratories and nurses’ stations. These items are placed in cylindrical containers and propelled through a network of tubes by compressed air or by partial vacuum.

There are also the smart refrigerators fitted with sensors that monitor inside temperature and humidity to ensure vaccines and drugs are kept in optimal storage condition. The sensors are designed to send alerts according based on predetermined triggers.

“These two applications are obvious choices to be ahead of the queue. New IoT technologies are also integrated into IMC’s clinic management system (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM) system,” Mo said.

Because of the short lead time for deliver, Mo recalled the first phase of IoT implementations faced challenges in three fronts:

  • infrastructure - planning, delivery, installation and integration
  • application – selection of application vendors, defining the scope of work, development and user acceptance test
  • Understanding the standard operation procedure (SOP) in a medical setting

“A top priority for us was to quickly gain an understanding of clinic operation and SOP. As it was, initially we had a hard time getting a clear picture of user requirements,” Mo said.

“We included in the project team some of IMC’s clinic and medical staff to provide insights on different areas so that we can automate workflow according to their needs. We had to learn not only their culture but we had to learn a lot of medical terms, so that we can communicate in a common language.”

Mo and his team adopted an agile model for the project, giving them the flexibility needed for them to hit key milestones in the development cycle.

“We break software development in small pieces. We instituted a fast feedback loop so that we can quickly respond to changes and to ensure that solutions are aligned to users’ need. We were simultaneously developing and testing the solutions as we go. We were running a tight ship with weekly project meetings and daily site visits,” he said.

Already, the first phase of the project already delivered cost savings and benefits.

When Mo was tapped to join the project, he made adjustments to the original proposal provided by a systems integrator.

“The project proposal initially contained a lot of old technology. So I decided to put specifications using new technology and it saves the budget more than HK$3 million ($383,610),” Mo said.

He added that by using high-performance servers that reduces the number of racks from 10 to four, they were able to save on server room space.”

“This does not include the savings on the rental and savings on the electricity bill,” he said. “Moving forward, we aim to conduct performance measurement every two months to find out different areas of improvement.”

Moving to the next phase

Today, IMC is on the second phase of its IoT project which will feature applications such as smart bracelets, interactive kiosks and integrated medical report.

“The smart bracelet is envisioned to deliver several functions and benefits. Essentially worn by patients when checking into IMC, it will serve as identification, providing clinic staff with real-time update on the location of the patient,” Mo said.

“It will also measure a patient’s ECG, heart rate and blood pressure. It is equipped with motion detection so that it will send an alert if a patient fell,” he said.

The smart bracelets are integrated into the iPads being carried by IMC ambassadors who guide and assist each patient throughout his visit.

“They enable better arrangement of patient treatment flow and help save queuing time for patients,” Mo said.

Ultimately, IMC’s goal for its IoT project is to develop an intelligent health analysis prediction system for wellness treatment and illness prevention.

“We want to be able to predict the development of chronic diseases based on big data analytics. We want to easily detect health risks from environmental and data changes. And from there, we can quickly provide accurate and personalized treatment,” Mo said.

First published in Computerworld Hong Kong

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