Here’s how ASEAN’s first 5G smart hospital is using AI to usher in a new era of healthcare

In the first of our two-part interview with the assistant director of Thailand’s Siriraj Hospital – the region’s first 5G smart hospital – we find out how they use artificial intelligence effectively to improve their processes and enhance productivity.

It is the oldest hospital in Thailand, with more than 134 years of history behind it, and some parts of the large, sprawling facility still bears traces of its long and storied past.

But do not be fooled by its façade – within the walls of the historic Siriraj hospital, a technological revolution that will transform them into one of the most modern hospitals in Southeast Asia is well underway.

This comes as the hospital, in partnership with the Thailand Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), officially launched the “Siriraj World Class 5G Smart Hospital” project in December last year.

In particular, the project will see the hospital utilise technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, to achieve the goals of improving Siriraj’s medical services, the quality of care provided, as well as overall efficiency.

The development of Siriraj Hospital into a 5G smart facility consists of several other sub-projects – smart emergency medical services, smart emergency rooms (ER), pathological diagnosis system with 5G and AI, an AI platform for non-communicable diseases, smart inventory management, a permission-based block chain for personal health records, smart logistics with a 5G self-driving car, multi-access edge computing and a hybrid cloud system.

Speaking to Hospital Management Asia (HMA), the assistant director at Siriraj Hospital, Dr Sichon Luerithiphong, provided a deeper insight into how these new smart technologies would enable their hospital to operate more efficiently.

Saving time, saving lives

One of the sub-projects is the development of the smart emergency medical services, in which Siriraj Hospital’s ambulances are equipped with 5G technology to facilitate the transference of real-time data to doctors in the hospital.

Dr Luerithiphong explained: “We’ve developed a smart ambulance which uses 5G technology to transfer data to the hospital the moment the ambulance arrives on the scene. This means all of the patient’s vital signs, as well as other critical information, can be accessed by the doctor in the emergency room in real time.

“We also utilise body cameras, that – with 5G technology – can transmit high quality videos to the doctor, so they know exactly what is happening at the scene and in the ambulance. This allows them to better prepare themselves for when the patient arrives at the hospital. For example, they can guide the paramedic to perform life-saving procedure in real-time or order medication sooner, and as we know, in emergency situations, every minute is critical, and could mean the difference between life and death.”

Patients that arrive at Siriraj’s ERs are then tracked by smart technology so that key details, including the time of admission, their vital signs, and the last time they were checked on by a nurse, are readily available and accessible to the medical staff. In addition, the smart system will send out an alert if it detects any patient deterioration.

“We’re also currently training the AI (artificial intelligence) to learn the patient journey at our hospital, so that in future – maybe in a couple of years – when a patient arrives at our hospital, they can key in their symptoms into the system and automatically be channelled to the right outpatient clinics,” Dr Luerithiphong added.

Lower costs, increased efficiency

According to Dr Luerithiphong, the main cost incurred by Siriraj comes from stocking up their inventory, which include medical supplies like PPEs (Personal protective equipment), as well as medications.

To help manage that particular cost, Siriraj uses AI technology to them predict the amount of medication and medical equipment the hospital will need to maintain in their inventory at any given time.

“Based on the logistical data that we collected from the past, we have developed a prediction model for the AI, which lets us know how much medication and supplies we need in order to continue operating at an optimum level,” Dr Luerithiphong said.

Another sub-project of the “Siriraj World Class 5G Smart Hospital” is the enhancement of the hospital’s pathological diagnosis system with 5G and AI technology.

While Siriraj previously used to rely on traditional pathology methods, the hospital has since digitalised the process, and intends to use AI technology in future for diagnostic support.

“The professors in the pathology department are currently developing the AI to help check the slides to detect, grade, and predict…this will help the pathologist minimise time working on each slide, thus allowing them to work more efficiently,” elaborated Dr Luerithiphong.

A role model for other hospitals

As the first 5G smart hospital in Southeast Asia, Siriraj is rightly regarded a trailblazer for hospitals in Thailand – and indeed, around the region – in the digitalised era of healthcare.

While the project is still in its nascent stages, there are already plans to expand it to include other hospitals in Thailand in future, as the country looks to improve their public health services.

One of the key goals for the project is to provide a higher quality of care for citizens staying in rural Thailand, as Dr Luerithiphong said: “Right now, we’re still only developing and implementing the technology at Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital service network which consist of three hospitals, Siriraj Hospital, Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital (SiPH), and the Golden Jubilee Medical Center. But we’re also looking to link up with other hospitals in our area.

“If all goes well in the first phase, we will definitely expand the system and link up with more hospitals, outside our own network including those in rural areas.

“After all, we have a duty to provide people in remote areas with improved access to advanced healthcare services…with the 5G and AI technology at our disposal, we can help them get their diagnosis sooner. This, in turn, will allow them to seek out proper treatment earlier, thus improving their chances of making a full recovery.”

Part two of our interview with Dr Sichon Luerithiphong, on how robotics and automation are playing a big part in the “Siriraj World Class 5G Smart Hospital” project, will be published next week. You can also contact Dr Luerithiphong at valuedrivencare@gmail.com or sichon.lue@mahidol.edu to find out more.

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