O sole meta

Sept. 22, 2022

Think of the headline as a metapolitan version of a famous Neapolitan song.

What about meta? For the healthcare industry, meta symbolizes technologies available but not quite in universal practice. The metaverse represents a computer-generated make-believe “reality,” either a conjuring of creative fictional worlds or an existing environment, footprint or landscape on which you can add, manipulate or remove components and elements.

Healthcare as an industry remains chock full of technology on the clinical and pharmaceutical sides where doctors and nurses take as much advantage of digital and electronic tools as possible. Yet on the operational side, of which supply chain is a large part, the players are more analog, if not quasi-digital, unlike many of their colleagues and counterparts in food service, manufacturing and retail, for example. At least they’re not Luddite.

While technologies can’t always avert crises or solve problems they can aid and assist in performance improvement and productivity, bringing efficiency to effectiveness, if not guaranteeing effectiveness.

Granted, some of the technology options employed by healthcare has been around or even known for decades – from tracking and tracing modalities (e.g., bar coding, RFID, etc.) to mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, data readers, etc.) to automated supply cabinets/dispensaries (e.g., closed or open shelf options) and even wayfinding devices (e.g., digital flatscreens/interactive touchscreen or voice-activated signage and kiosks, etc.) are surging in interest in popularity. Thanks to the global pandemic and worldwide supply chain disruptor, most everyone knows about demand management/predictive analytics software, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning (the latter three continuing to simmer as buzzwords), which leads to concerns about cybersecurity.

Beyond that, widely adopted and implemented options seem spotty. Outside of healthcare, Supply Chain embraces them; inside of healthcare only a small number recognize their value and see their functional applicability. What are they and why do they matter?

  • Augmented reality (AR) (e.g., for directions, instructions, locating, mapping, teaching, training, etc.). Imagine wearing a pair of computer-chipped eyeglasses connected to the cloud that can direct you on where to find a certain product in the warehouse.
  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) (including ”mother-daughter” and remote-control tugs). Do you need to transport a passel of boxes and cartons of varying products to the nursing floors from the storeroom? A motorized sidekick can help or can handle it independently via ceiling- and/or doorway-mounted wi-fi sensors.
  • Robotics (including “co”botic arms, exoskeletons, etc.). Arms can be helpful in SPD to maneuver and/or transport soiled instruments or conversely sterilized instruments during reprocessing. Staffers in the warehouse can don an exoskeleton jacket to help them pickup large, heavy boxes without a forklift or can ease physical and mental stress from repetitive motions.
  • Virtual reality (VR) (e.g., for demonstrations, designing, inservice training and education, etc.). This can help educate and train supply chain staffers through crisis/disaster drills and can be used to design and redesign storage space throughout a facility.
  • 3-D printing. This can be used to fabricate buildings, cars and the like, but legal concerns about patent protection and privacy prevent its use in the fabrication of medical/surgical devices and implants. Still, 3-D printing can be used to fabricate components for “lower class” products and basic commodities for the storeroom and /or warehouse that likely shouldn’t trigger an organization’s risk radar and potential litigation.
  • Drones. These “toylike” tools can be used for convenient pan-campus deliveries to multiple buildings or even to patient homes within relative proximity of the healthcare organization.
  • Self-driving vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks, vans, shuttles). They simply can shuttle patients and visitors to multiple buildings on sprawling campuses for appointments and meetings.

Are we there yet? No. Is it possible? Yes. But like

“O sole mio” or even “O sole meta,” it’s now or never.

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