There is a new technology wave coming that might be very disruptive for biomedical engineering departments. It has been called by different names; “The Industrial Internet”, “Machine to Machine Communications” (M2M), and “The Internet of Things.” Regardless of what it is called, its proponents say that one day all devices will be capable of communicating via the internet. Low cost embedded sensors will enable devices to send vital operational data to sophisticated analytical software. The operational status of all devices will be continuously monitored remotely. Sophisticated analytical software will perform routine testing and identify potential failures before they happen.
A few companies already offer remote monitoring and claim that they are capable of identifying malfunctions and dispatching service technicians before customers are aware that they have a problem. Routine planned maintenance according to rigid schedules will no longer be necessary because maintenance will only be performed when analytical software determines it is necessary. This will reduce the amount of scheduled downtime required for maintenance. Routine reports of the operational status of each device can be generated and automatically entered into equipment history records. General Motor’s “On Star” service presently offers vehicle owners a monthly emailed report on the operational status and maintenance requirements of their automobiles. These products are just the beginning of the wave.
As hospitals become aware that these technologies will reduce downtime for repairs and planned maintenance, they will begin demanding these features in their future capital purchases. In many hospital departments lost revenue due to equipment downtime often exceeds equipment repair costs. Equipment downtime in the laboratory and imaging departments can also result in delays of critical information that physicians may need to best determine the course of patient treatments. If hospitals want to operate efficiently, they will need to adopt these new technologies.
How might these technologies affect us? What would the role of biomedical departments be when we no longer are required to perform planned maintenance according to a schedule? What happens when we perform maintenance only when analytical software notifies us that it is necessary because of changes in a device’s performance? Will we need fewer technicians? Imagine how beneficial it will be to patients and nursing staff when analytical software notifies us to remove or replace a device before it fails. Imagine the benefits when software automatically troubleshoots problems and tells us which component or circuit needs to be replaced?
Hospitals are under intense pressure to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency. This technology can play an important part in these efforts. Biomedical department personnel are the only hospital employees with the training and education to truly understand how these new technologies function. They are in a unique position to play an important role in educating administrators and department heads as to the benefits of adopting these technologies. The important question however is; will you be ready for these new technologies
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