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Q&A: AI is set to meet the needs of modern healthcare

On average, nurses waste about an hour of their shifts searching for medical equipment. These technologies ensure operations run much more efficiently.

Image: — © AFP
Image: — © AFP

U.S. hospitals lose millions of dollars each year because of stolen, lost and misplaced equipment. Adding to that challenge, in the last two years, 40 percent of healthcare workers experienced workplace violence, with others reporting that this industry undergoes more non-fatal workplace violence than any other profession, including law enforcement.

According to the digital healthcare firm Cognosos, hospitals are meeting these challenges by using real-time tracking technology and AI to make sure nurses and clinical teams have the medical devices they need where and when they need them.

On average, nurses waste about an hour of their shifts searching for medical equipment. These technologies ensure operations run much more efficiently.

Digital Journal:  What are some of the challenges facing healthcare today?

Cognosos: The healthcare industry deals with tremendous financial pressure, staffing shortages and employee burnout–underscored by a commitment to providing excellent patient care.

In an era of digital transformation, technology is the obvious solution to help staff do less with more while maintaining a high-quality patient experience. The challenge is that hospitals are difficult environments for technology to function seamlessly. People and equipment are constantly in motion. There is sensitive data and expensive equipment involved. The walls are filled with pipes and wires you wouldn’t find in a typical office or home environment. Keeping equipment clean is critical. There are rules and regulations like HIPAA that are unique to these locations. All of these factors mean that hospitals should select technology that is designed for their uniquely demanding environments.

DJ: How can location technology and AI make the lives of hospital personnel easier?

Cognosos: We focus primarily on using location intelligence to improve nurse efficiency, increase asset ROI, and address the escalating issue of workplace violence. Location intelligence–sometimes referred to as real-time location services (RTLS)–is a technology that accurately identifies the location of mobile medical equipment in real time by attaching small sensors or tags that transmit data to the cloud. Our AI, which we call LocationAI, allows us to provide a high-accuracy solution at a low cost. In the same way that an image-recognition algorithm can be trained to recognize specific images, we train the AI to recognize rooms.

Showing a nurse where to find clean equipment is helpful in the same way tagging your lost keys is helpful. However, it is also a failure in healthcare, where we want nurses focused on care rather than looking for equipment. Since we know what every piece of equipment is–and where it’s located–we can alert the staff when they are getting low on clean equipment and show them exactly where to retrieve the dirty equipment. When a nurse opens the clean room, they will find exactly what they need.

This technology can also augment staff duress solutions, allowing hospitals to identify, locate and respond to problematic (or potentially problematic) encounters. We recently announced Cognosos Protect–a discrete, wearable badge with an alert button that employees can press when they feel threatened. When activated, the badge will send an alert for help, enabling the hospital to locate the employee in real time to address the situation. Over time, advanced software and AI can leverage the data captured from staff duress to identify problematic behavior patterns, trouble spots in a facility, or other incident trends for more proactive planning and staffing.

DJ: What were the main technological challenges in developing your technology?

Cognosos: Given the complexity of hospital environments, there has historically been a tradeoff for location intelligence to be a viable option for most hospitals. Solutions like ultrasound and/or infrared are generally high-cost and high disruption (with high accuracy). Solutions like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are usually low-cost and low disruption (with low accuracy).

AI layered on top of advanced hardware and software changes that equation. For location intelligence to succeed in hospitals, it must be easy to install, function campus-wide and still produce high-quality data from low-cost sensors. Cognosos solves this because the complexity that hurts other solutions is exactly what informs our AI-enabled approach. We give each area of a hospital a unique fingerprint that drives our accuracy, all with lightweight infrastructure. 

DJ: How do hospitals overcome these challenges?

Cognosos: Any technology deployed in a hospital should be thoughtful in its design. Cognosos purpose-built our hardware and software to fit into the demanding and highly complicated hospital environment and reliably function. By using our own dedicated network designed for low latency, we can avoid bottlenecks on the hospital network and create a high-priority lane for alerts and other critical messages. To provide room-level accuracy, we developed an AI system housed in the cloud that leverages machine learning algorithms. This lightweight infrastructure can be installed quickly in easy-to-access areas–allowing patient rooms and hallways to remain operational.  

DJ: You mentioned your staff duress solution, Cognosos Protect, earlier. What sets it apart from traditional offerings?

Cognosos: Legacy staff duress systems, such as panic buttons mounted on the wall for emergency use or other early IoT solutions, offered limited coverage and only pinpointed the origin of a problem rather than tracking its progression. Cognosos Protect leverages our AI engine and is based on decades of experience in the healthcare industry. The minimal form factor of the button is designed to be activated in a way that is hard for the attacker to see and keeps locating the badge throughout the incident. Unlike traditional offerings, we cover outdoor areas and parking garages so hospital staff are protected from the moment they park to when they leave. We also have privacy built in as we only locate people when they push the button instead of continually tracking like other solutions do.

In addition to the wearable alerting solution, customizable response workflows coordinate with responders in real time and keep them updated with developments. Cognosos Protect also includes a full incident management suite that integrates seamlessly with existing security and communication systems. This offers forensic reporting with historical event insights, enabling hospitals to continuously improve response times and process efficiency while strengthening compliance efforts with regulatory agency standards. 

DJ: If possible, can you discuss other projects Cognosos is working on?

Cognosos: We’ll continue to focus on leveraging AI’s power to unlock our software’s capabilities. We expect to roll out new features and functionalities that help hospitals proactively address day-to-day efficiencies and protect staff from unfortunate instances of safety threats. In addition, the automotive and logistics industries are using our platform for similar benefits in terms of efficiency and safety. We are already working with four of the top nine automotive OEMs and expect those partnerships to grow in the coming months.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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