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A hospital’s oxygen cylinders, ventilators or infusion pumps have to be in the right place at the right time. Linde is helping to solve logistical challenges by connecting such life-saving devices via the Internet of Things and bundling this intelligence on its digital platform.

At the Caritas-Krankenhaus St. Josef, a hospital in the German city of Regensburg, the colour yellow used to mean one thing above all for nursing staff: stress. When patients are moved from one department to another, the hospital uses mobile cylinders to ensure uninterrupted oxygen therapy. Previously, the contents gauge on these cylinders was divided into three zones: green, yellow and red. Green meant that the cylinder was full, while red stood for empty. But yellow? Something in between. “When a cylinder was in the yellow zone, we often just replaced it with a new one,” recalls Alexandra Stich, ward manager at St. Josef. “We can’t risk a patient suddenly running out of oxygen.”

This often meant returning half-full cylinders. Now that has changed – ever since the hospital introduced Linde’s smart cylinder system, LIV® IQ. These days, a digital display shows the current contents level in the compressed gas cylinder and indicates how much longer the reserves will last – to the nearest minute. “This is a huge weight off our minds,” reports Stich.

With the Linde Technology COBALT, mobile ventilators,
infusion pumps and oxygen cylinders can
now communicate with hospital staff.
Used in The Linde Groups Annual Report 2017.
The digital transformation is not stopping at hospital doors – mobile ventilators, infusion pumps and oxygen cylinders can now communicate with hospital staff thanks to Linde.
A transformational change to cylinder fleet management

Partnering to capitalise on digital change

While the impact of digitalisation on medical and patient care has been modest thus far, new technologies are nonetheless enabling small but decisive improvements – so more of a gradual evolution than a radical transformation. Reflecting this trend, Linde expanded its LIV® IQ offering in 2016 to create the Hospital IQ data platform. This central system collects all cylinder data, providing an instant over-view of each cylinder’s location and contents.

The software can also order new oxygen cylinders automatically – an additional task that previously fell to managers such as Stich. The time this saves can prove invaluable for patient care. In addition, Hospital IQ automatically optimises inventory levels, avoiding costly overstocking.

Missing equipment wastes time

Through its close working relationships with customers in the healthcare sector, Linde was also able to identify another – previously over-looked – area of inefficiency offering huge scope for improvement. It may seem like a routine, straightforward task at first glance, but transporting patients within a clinic can be an incredibly time-consuming undertaking. Say a patient needs to go to the operating theatre, for instance. Stich and her staff then need to check whether the necessary equipment is in place – which means not only oxygen cylinders, but also ventilators and infusion devices.

In larger hospitals, this quickly becomes complicated. Infusion pumps, for instance, could be dotted all over the building – essentially everywhere except the place they are needed. The result is stressed-out staff having to go on equipment hunts instead of caring for patients – and anxious patients whose transport is then delayed. Not to mention a surgical team on standby, unable to start the operation on time.

Portrait of Helmut Franz, Global Business Manager Medical Gas Packaging at Linde AG
Helmut Franz, Global Business Manager Medical Gas Packaging at Linde AG
Portrait of Alexandra Stich, Ward Manager at St. Joseph Caritas Hospital.
Used for The Linde Groups Annual Report 2017
Alexandra Stich, Ward Manager at St. Joseph Caritas Hospital

Cost efficiency is key to survival

Digitalisation offers hospitals the opportunity to optimise these processes, reduce stress and cut costs. In particular, cost efficiency has become an absolute must if hospitals are to remain financially viable, since reforms mean that many of them now receive fixed reimbursements for specific procedures – regardless of the actual outlay. The average patient stay simply has to be reduced to meet these pressures. In large hospitals, this means that many small steps must dovetail to perfection. And where processes are delayed – for instance because a missing infusion pump holds up transport to the operating theatre – expenses quickly start to add up for the hospital. Over the course of a year, many minor delays thus result in significant extra costs.

A giant step into the Internet of Things

This is where INETIQ™ comes in – Linde’s enhanced version of its digital Hospital IQ platform. Building on oxygen cylinder intelligence, INETIQ™ will also integrate medical devices in future. Fitted with sensors, medical devices will be able to communicate with INETIQ™ – thus propelling them into the Internet of Things. Staff can then track the location and movements of all devices, at all times. “Staff need to be sure that the equipment they need will be in the right place, at the right time,” emphasises Helmut Franz, Global Business Manager Medical Gas Packaging at Linde.

To ensure it is, Linde is now applying digitalisation innovations it developed for its own products to third-party devices. “If an idea holds real potential, we continue to develop it and look at ways of extending that non-stop momentum to other areas,” declares Franz.

INETIQ™ will initially be deployed in several trial scenarios from 2018 onwards. For Ward Man- ager Alexandra Stich, the system would be a huge bonus for her work. Indeed, any hospital stands to gain if staff spend a lot less time phoning and mailing to organise full oxygen cylinders or other devices for patients. INETIQ™ would make this time-consuming activity a thing of the past, creating a win-win for every- one involved: the hospital, the staff and – of course – the patients.

To learn more about Linde’s flagship projects in 2017, download the annual report here.