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Outdated Operational Technology Poses Risks

Why Updating Technology Is Necessary For Maintaining Operations

Reading Time: 3 min.

Susan Saldibar & Scott Fincher | 1 February, 2024

If It Ain't Broke: The Challenge of Outdated Hospital Systems

If you walk into any hospital that is more than a few years old, you are bound to find outdated systems. Yet many of them continue to be used, day in and day out, remaining untouched. They seem to run and run without a hiccup. Until one day they don’t. Proper maintenance programs can help with this but we know nothing lasts forever. When critical systems fail, many hospitals see their operations grind to a halt.

Operational technology and integrated hospital systems are key to efficiency. Systems that automate functions and streamline processes form a critical operational backbone of the hospital. They perform an ever widening range of functions from lighting, electrical and elevators to plumbing, HVACs, and pneumatic tube deliveries.

Technologies, such as business automation systems (BAS), provide an array of benefits, including improved energy efficiency, reduction of maintenance and operating costs, and increased productivity (Facilitiesnet).

Between the hardware and software components, operational technologies help ensure that hospitals are running efficiently and that those that rely upon shared information with other systems are connected. They also produce reports that can be used to gauge performance and fix issues before they become major problems.

Why Do Some Hospitals Neglect to Update Critical Systems?

Despite the critical nature of the services provided in hospitals, many of their platforms are not being properly maintained. Reasons for neglecting hospital system maintenance may include:

  • Lack of on-site technical expertise to perform maintenance.
  • Diminished budget for offsite contracting maintenance.
  • Personnel turnover, resulting in loss of key knowledge of legacy hospital systems.
  • Low priority assigned to maintaining working systems to make room for new initiatives.
  • Thin profit margins which may limit the financial resources to support maintenance in areas such as business automation system initiatives (Health Facilities Management).

Taking the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality is risky and expensive. It is well established outside of hospital systems that a “well-oiled machine” runs much longer. Conversely, turning a blind eye to performing maintenance and upgrades to aging hospital systems is dangerous. Whether it’s an HVAC, lighting system, pneumatic tube system, or other building automation technology, this approach can end up costing hospitals thousands to millions of dollars when a system or software component fails because:

  • The original supplier may no longer have the parts to fix legacy systems, which means you may need to buy a new system.
  • Older software from one system may not be able to communicate with newer software from another system, resulting in a termination of the process.
  • Operations will slow or stop, resulting in on-the-fly manual workarounds.
  • Workflow is interrupted as key personnel are diverted to fill gaps.
  • The quality of services is negatively impacted which in turn impacts patient care.
  • The hospital is thrown into a reactive mode, necessitating paying for emergency dispatch of a technician and the expense of purchasing a new system they have not budgeted for.
staff filling tube system carrier
Hospital Staff Using Pneumatic Tube System

Outdated Hospital Technologies Are Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

A roundtable discussion of manufacturers hosted by Healthcare Facilities Today pointed out that as technologies become increasingly interconnected within operational areas, they are more vulnerable to cyberattacks. These attacks can lead to downtime of key systems, which in turn creates a negative impact on the healthcare facility’s processes.

The threat of a cyberattack is very real inside hospitals. That threat increases with outdated hospital software, especially when used within a network of interconnected systems. A security breach can quickly render an entire operational unit useless.

Once this occurs the search for the location of the breach and how deeply it has impacted operations begins. That alone takes time. Software issues, unlike hardware components, are often not as easily rectified. That downtime means employees resort to manual methods to keep services flowing. This opens the hospital to the potential of human error or procedural bottlenecks, leaving management wondering why they neglected to update or upgrade their systems in the first place.

If It Ain’t Broke … Maintain It!

If you have hospital automation systems that are working but are not being maintained regularly, it is time to reach out to your original supplier. Here’s what they can do to benefit your hospital:

  • Conduct a thorough evaluation of the system.
  • Provide an updated maintenance agreement.
  • Train your key hospital personnel.
  • Provide needed software updates.
  • Work with IT to minimize potential cyber threats.
  • Offer diagnostic services from onsite to call-in support.
  • Provide consultation for planning purposes.

In some cases, your supplier may recommend replacement of the aged-out system. There are a few benefits to doing so (Facilitiesnet):

  • Take advantage of the latest advancements in technology.
  • Re-set the clock by staving off obsolescence.
  • Better match system features with current and future needs.

Your hospital technology must keep up the pace. Regardless of which approach you take, the key is to avoid the temptation to leave your systems alone. While they may seem invulnerable, they are not. Outdated systems make a hospital more vulnerable to operational breakdowns and cyberattacks. With proper planning and foresight, you can ensure that your systems continue to serve the workflow and process needs of your hospital.