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Healthy signs

Healthcare facilities are tapping AV systems to manage evolving Covid challenges, says Colin Farquhar, senior vice president sales, at VITEC

The last 18 months have been among the most challenging just about every healthcare institution in the world has faced. Covid-19 has not only had a seismic impact on hospitals and other medical facilities from the outset of the pandemic, but most have had to adapt to rapidly evolving situations continuously. In addition to providing emergency triage for an onslaught of coronavirus cases and finding beds for the most severe cases, medical providers have more recently proactively supported national vaccination rollouts.

While all this has been happening, healthcare organisations have still had to continue to manage patients with non-Covid conditions, including those dealing with other severe illnesses, suffering injuries, or otherwise requiring urgent care. And even as the number of the most severe Covid cases begins to diminish, many healthcare providers face a backlog of procedures that have been put off due to tied-up facilities and patient safety concerns.

The upshot of a rapidly evolving long-term medical crisis has been that communication – with patients, families, staff, contractors and other visitors – has been critical to the successful ongoing operation of healthcare facilities of all types. Having the right technologies in place to manage and provide effective and safe communications, whether to personal devices or onsite in public and closed areas at hospitals, clinics and other facilities, has been essential.

Having to rely on digital tools such as track and trace smartphone apps while also finding ways of managing vaccination outreach for entire populations has made clear that cutting edge technologies are crucial to delivering effective communication within healthcare institutions and the communities they serve. To effectively deal with individuals who still require treatment at medical facilities worldwide amid ongoing social distancing requirements and other restrictions, many healthcare providers are finding new ways to interact with visitors and patients through innovative IPTV and digital signage technologies.

Turkey’s TOBB University of Technology and Economics (ETÜ) Hospital offers a great case-in-point on the power of IPTV and digital signage to keep everyone onsite – from doctors and nurses to cleaners and admin staff to patients and family – efficiently informed. TOBB ETÜ Hospital has screens installed in-patient rooms, clinic waiting areas, visitor waiting rooms, and restaurants and cafés across its multilevel site.

This AV system facilitates the delivery of broadcast programming – including the news and educational material – to 85 patient rooms, six public areas and 28 staff desktops. The IP video system also delivers prepared presentations and training videos to enable staff to access medical information or refresh their training at their convenience from a desktop computer – which has undoubtedly become increasingly important as the Covid-19 crisis has evolved.

Healthcare providers are increasingly relying on IPTV and digital signage to interact with patients and visitors, welcoming them on site, providing instructions, reinforcing guidelines, and sharing policy updates in public areas. The need for this type of customised public communication has reached new levels of urgency during the pandemic and the level of face-to-face contact remains a concern, even as the number of grave Covid cases goes down in many countries.

Digital signage can play a vital role in minimising personal contact by helping direct visitors to the correct consultation or treatment areas, to facilities such as vending machines and restrooms, and to public handwashing and sanitising stations. Making sure people know where they are going and what to do when they get there is critical in the age of Covid-19. What’s more, streaming key messages and even health and safety videos in hospitals and other facilities further reinforces underlying efforts to keep these places safe.

Many digital signage deployments are seen as a form of one-way communication, but a growing number of interactive systems can be utilised in conjunction with these at entrances to healthcare facilities to welcome patients and streamline ‘check-in’ processes through touchscreens and kiosks. Digital signage can be employed to inform visitors where and how to begin to ‘check in’ and can include a range of other valuable messages for those entering a hospital, including visitation hours, queue management information and wayfinding directions to departments and facilities like vending machines and restrooms. Combining digital signage with sign-in applications helps improve the overall visitor experience while minimising interaction with staff.

The use of AV systems is not just about day patients either. In-patient stays can also benefit from enhanced communication tools and bedside TV entertainment. For instance, Qatar’s Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) deploys IPTV and digital signage technologies throughout hospital sites and patient rooms, helping patients feel connected to the outside world – a critical concern during the Covid crisis. The IPTV system facilitates the delivery of 120 live and Video on Demand channels to inform, entertain and support the patients and guests. Digital signage solutions enable facilities such as those run by HMC to create, manage and display dynamic messaging across each site, communicating important updates on Covid-19 safety measures and guidelines.

Staff are also able to overcome communication challenges through digital signage deployments. Many healthcare providers use ward notice boards and internal email to keep staff abreast of new developments, which can sometimes be problematic amid an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ crisis. Due to Covid-19, the ability of ward staff to find time to update static boards and check emails may be severely limited – and cleaners and other contractors may have no access to email at all.

Many facilities now use digital signage to efficiently update staff across various locations, including break rooms, treatment zones and admission areas. These displays can quickly distribute critical information such as policy changes, patient information, staff rosters, operation schedules, ongoing training opportunities, human resources information and, perhaps most critically, patient intake statuses.

By linking digital signage to hospital management systems, these critical updates can be dynamically created and displayed on defined screens with little human interaction – saving time and effort. Most facilities have been running at full capacity for months, so digital signage and IP video has also been an incredibly useful way of training and communicating work protocols to staff – providing instructions on matters such as: cleaning communal equipment; following new procedures for deliveries; and using cafeterias, kitchens and other shared facilities. Another big plus for digital signage in an evolving situation is that an organisation can easily add more screens to the network and update these remotely in real time. And, critically, digital signage can be used to trigger emergency alerts and messaging.

IPTV and digital signage technologies have played a major role in onsite communications at healthcare facilities before Covid and then at each stage of the pandemic. Although Covid-19 vaccination programs are being rolled out around the world, the prospect of a new variant changing circumstances or the possibility of another type of outbreak spreading means that being prepared to rapidly adapt and provide up-to-date communications to staff, patients and others who are onsite will remain of critical importance to hospitals and other medical facilities. The fact that healthcare providers need to be prepared for any eventuality also means that exploring innovative new technologies to foster better digital communication should remain indefinitely on the agenda of senior leaders.