Healthy technology

November 2010 Security Services & Risk Management, Healthcare (Industry)

A new approach to health security is needed in South Africa.

In South Africa, there is a tangible difference between private and public healthcare in terms of the facilities, quality of care and the patient experience. However, across the board healthcare facilities in this country lag far behind those in the US and Europe. A glance at typical technological and practical solutions implemented in world class facilities highlights the challenges healthcare facility managers face and the risks patients are unwittingly exposed to locally.

Says Neil Cameron of Johnson Controls: “Internationally, liability and lawsuits drive implementation of advanced infrastructure, new methodologies and integrated solutions that improve the quality of care, the security and safety of patients, and enhance the accountability of medical staff at all levels. Locally, however, there seems to be more focus on upgrading the hospitality features at healthcare facilities to attract a greater portion of medical aid spend. A change of priorities and focus is perhaps necessary as there is much that can be done to minimise health risks and ensure a better outcome for patients.”

Securing the patient in a healthcare facility means ensuring he or she has the best possible chance of survival and recuperation.

Emphasises Cameron: “That means that key systems – infrastructural and technological – need to be reviewed. For example, the heating, ventilation and the air conditioning (HVAC) systems in a healthcare facility are not just a means to keep the environment comfortable for patients and staff, they play a big role in disease control and maintaining a germ-free environment.”

An international study shows that more than 26% of patients that enter US hospitals pick up a secondary infection within the hospital. Isolation of airborne contagion has thus become of primary importance. This is being achieved through better design of air conditioning systems and integration of the building management system (which controls the HVAC systems) with other systems, such as access control.

Explains Cameron: “It is important to identify airflows and know where contagion is likely to flow from and to. If access control is integrated into the system, the air conditioning system can intelligently respond to visitors and nursing staff entering and leaving these areas – for example, by switching fans on or off when doors open.”

It is also important to ensure the patient’s needs are timeously met. Says Cameron: “In cases where a patient dies in hospital, a full history detailing the care received and medication administered is required. In South Africa, patients needing assistance press a button that activates a flashing light or bell at the nurse’s station. The response they get depends on whether anyone is at that station. In contrast, nothing is left to chance in the US – if a patient presses a call bell the alert is sent to the responsible person via SMS and, if there is no response within 30 seconds, it is escalated to the next person on duty. Response times are also recorded.”

An important trend abroad is to implement intelligent paperless systems in hospitals. The aim is to create a hospital automation platform that ensures the delivery of world class medical care. Says Cameron: “The data transport architecture plays a big role in enabling this. Wireless mesh network architectures enable instant access to and exchange of information on different protocols, from WiFi to GSM and RFID. This gives medical professionals with PDAs full access to the patient’s personal and treatment history. It also allows them to prescribe medication and communicate this directly to the pharmacy. It even allows for real-time monitoring of the patient’s temperature and other vitals.

“In addition, a wireless network allows for tracking of not only patients, such as babies who may have RFID tags attached to their clothing, but of key equipment. This is not just for anti-theft purposes but because, when it comes to locating critical equipment, a few seconds could save a life,” says Cameron.

And, in keeping with advances in technology and knowledge trends, Internet terminals are now being placed in US hospitals for patients. Explains Cameron: “In the US, doctors do not just prescribe medication, they suggest a medication they think suitable. The patient or a family member then uses the Internet to assess the medication and its side effects, and will then make a decision whether to use it or not.”

Technologies are also used for multiple purposes. CCTV cameras, usually used for security purposes are used to monitor patients in the children’s wards.

“It is not just about new technology,” concludes Cameron, “it is about how healthcare facilities put those technologies to work to achieve practical outcomes. With a number of new hospitals being built around South Africa – all hoping to win some spend from private patients – the time is right to implement these new approaches, so changing perceptions about the level of care that can be expected at public facilities. That said, the private healthcare industry in South Africa also stands to benefit enormously by taking note of, and implementing, some of the new approaches being applied in healthcare globally.”

For more information contact Johnson Controls, +27 (0)11 921 7141,,


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