USC has announced plans to partner with AT&T to build a ‘smart’ cancer facility integrating a bunch of cutting-edge communications and data management technologies. The new facility is expected to open in winter 2020 and will be based in West Los Angeles.
The Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC plans to incorporate tech such as 5G, multi-access edge computing, AI and other emerging solutions to operate the facility, which will offer treatment and wellness education along with conducting cancer research.
In its announcement, USC says the program is being driven by the Institute’s “collaborative think tank,” which brings together not only medical researchers, but also experts in physics, engineering and mathematics. The university said that by developing a technologically advanced research facility, its team will be able to pull together the kind of data which can fuel future success.
Some of the more concrete features the new smart facility will offer include a wayfinding app helping patients orient themselves via a 3D app. Appointment alerts will include directions to their locations, as well as guides to finding parking and additional offsite labs.
The new facility will also deploy connected sensors dedicated to tracking patient-staff outcomes and gathering data that can be leveraged to improve outcomes. The facility will later integrate and track its assets and its supply chain.
Last but certainly not least, the smart facility will include wireless communications via the Distributed Antenna System, which offer support across the Institute for thousands of users. The backbone of the overall campus solution will include the DAS, 5G using millimeter wave spectrum, multi-access edge computing and an IoT platform.
USC’s plans aren’t completely unique. While there isn’t a flood of smart hospital ventures on deck, a few such projects are already in development.
For example, in late 2017, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center announced plans to spend $2 billion to build three new hospitals with a specialty focus, including one dedicated to cardiac care and transplants, one to vision and rehabilitation and one to cancer treatment.
More recently, Microsoft struck a deal with the Providence St. Joseph healthcare chain to build a new “hospital of the future” complete with an improved EHR, plus natural language processing and machine learning tools to help physicians diagnose and treat their patients.
While this all sounds nice, particularly if you’re one the vendors whose technologies are taking the stage, it’s hard to tell how meaningful this will be over the longer term. Sure, there’s no harm in co-building a huge proof of concept hospital project if you have a fat stack o’ cash or a well-funded partner willing to foot part of the bill, but that doesn’t mean your ‘smart hospital or ‘hospital of the future’ is truly such a thing.
I’d be more impressed by such announcements if the institutions involved gave us more detail on how they’ll use the demo hospital to make real clinical or operational improvements on the current hospital model. Otherwise, for the foreseeable future, they’re likely to serve more as healthcare Disneyland attractions than examples of how the next generation of hospitals will work.