The automated future is here, and although it may not be everything the Jetsons predicted, today’s smart technology can automate a lot of our everyday tasks , improving productivity, decreasing costs and enhancing the patient experience.

What is a smart clinic?

In the simplest of terms, it is a premise that uses technology to automate and link our everyday appliances to make tasks easier. This can be as simple as using a digital assistant to play music, turn on your security or keep track of your upcoming appointments.

Or it could be as complicated as automating your consultations by dimming lights as you enter your consulting room, turning on a spotlight and ensuring that your equipment is ready to use and in stand-by mode, so as not to compromise a sterile environment. With digital assistants all being hands-free, these only require a single voice command.

Why a smart clinic?

For many people, the driving force behind creating a smart clinic is the potential to save energy and money with automated heating and air conditioning systems. Smart thermostats quickly and precisely automate the heating and cooling of a premises. While other products such as connected lights and appliances can be programmed to use less energy by powering down when not in use or to be operating when power is cheapest.

Additionally, smart devices make it very easy to improve your security. Connected lights, cameras, and doorbells can help make premises much safer.

Finally, tedious, repetitive or easy to forget tasks can be taken out of your hands with connected and automated devices. Vacuum cleaners and other cleaning devices like washing machines and dishwashers can be programmed to start automatically, or a fridge that orders milk online when it senses that you’re low are available now. These kinds of products should be high up on anyone’s smart clinic checklist.

Where do you start?

Google Assistant, Siri (Apple) and Alexa (Amazon) are the most common assistants in use. There are a range of technologies available across all of these platforms with many of them capable of working on all three and to suit almost every environment.

With most hardware required able to be retrofitted into existing infrastructure, you don’t need to rebuild or renovate existing premises to update to a smart clinic.

While it’s entirely possible to have lights and other smart accessories controlled by your phone without using one of the digital assistants on offer, it can make for a cumbersome experience. So to make the most of your smart experience it is easier to have a hub that easily allows you to see and operate controls from one central location and to use your phone as an adjunct to this. Google, Amazon and a host of hardware manufacturers offer devices specifically designed for this.

So when setting up smart premises, it’s best to start small and have a plan for expansion. This may initially include automating your lights and security. Then once this is set up, you can include automating music, air-conditioning/heating, your treatment rooms and the equipment in them.

So which assistant is the best?

Currently Apple is playing catchup in this area. Siri offers fewer compatible automation products than the others. However if you’re in an Apple environment, both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa offer apps for iOS and MacOS. If you’re in a Windows/Android environment, you’re restricted to Google Assistant and Alexa as Siri is strictly Apple only.

The core functionality for all three systems works in the same way. You require an account on whichever platform your choose, and apps either from the platform provider or from the hardware provider are installed and utilised to operate the equipment. The ‘Assistant’ app then integrates the functionality of all of your dvices into a single voice operated location.

So, as an example, with lighting your can buy some Philips Hue light bulbs and install them in your fittings. Add a Philips Hue Bridge to your wireless router so that the light bulbs can talk to the internet. Install the Philips Hue app onto your smart phone, and authorise Google Assistant to control the app. This whole process will take approximately 10 minutes, depending on the number of light bulbs being installed. But once completed, you then have complete control over those lights from anywhere in the world where you have a mobile phone service. The easiest equipment to retrofit is any standard light fitting, or any device that can be left on and switched off and on with a smart power board.

What are the best smart devices available now?

Here are some recommendations for the best smart devices to bring your clinic into the future and give it a much-needed upgrade.

Smart speaker options

One part speaker and one part virtual assistant, smart speakers from Amazon (Echo, powered by Alexa), Google (Nest Hub, powered by Assistant) and Apple (Home Pod, powered by Siri) make it easy to link up a variety of different smart home/office accessories that you can then easily control with your voice. Depending on how complicated your setup is, you may even get away with using just your phone and a smart speaker to control your entire smart home experience. These little sound boxes give you the ability to quickly look up information, schedule calendar invitations, play music, control your smart home, shop online and so much more, All with the power of your voice.

Smart speakers are also being made by some of the best hifi creators on the industry including Bose, Sonos and JBL. So you don’t have to skimp on the quality (or volume) of the sound and multiple speakers can be programmed to play the same stream or unique sound in different rooms or areas.

smart hubs
Smart Hubs/Speakers

Smart hub options

These usually combine a less acoustically desirable speaker with a screen so that you can not only hear Alexa/Siri/Google Assistant respond to your request, but you can see the information as well. Google and Amazon both offer a branded hub, where the Apple option will see you relying on your iPad. Using Google’s offering as a simple case, Google Home Hub is your hardware while Google Assistant is the voice that responds to your queries.

Smart lighting

Smart lightsPhilips offers a range of products in their Hue brand. These include light bulbs, strip lighting and complete fittings for indoor and outdoor use that allow you switch them on and off by voice commend, program on and off times, dim and change the colour of the lighting. They also have wireless motion sensors that allow you to automatically switch lighting on and off. As well wireless switches and dimmers are available for those who want to give access to everyone.

Although it uses a proprietary hub, a lot of other manufacturers are now making compatible products, further enhancing the range of smart lighting options that can be used with Hue.

Smart doorbell

Ring Video Doorbells work wirelessly and have battery operated options to allow you put a doorbell anywhere and respond to all visitors on your phone or Hub, whether you’re at the clinic or not.

Smart locks

A smart lock with a smart doorbell, will let you allow access to visitors automatically. The August Smart Lock Pro fits into a standard deadbolt. (Keep your old key to use manually in emergencies.) The app allows you to lock and unlock the door with a single tap or voice command. You can also set up automation, to set the lock to automatically lock/unlock when you leave a 60 metre radius or lock after a certain period of time.

Last but not least, you can set “smart alerts” to tell you when the door is locked or unlocked, when the door is left ajar, when the door is automatically locked or unlocked, and so on. This allows you to keep tabs on the status of your lock, if that’s something you want to do.

Smart security camera

The Arlo Pro range of security cameras allow you to set up a hub on your wireless router, and as many cameras as you need, both indoor and out, to secure your whole premises. They can be automated to activated at particular hours (eg. outside of business hours) or when the users’ devices are all outside of a determined radius from the premises. No more forgetting to switch on or off your security system.

There is a no-cost option for storing video footage on the cloud, and alerts are sent immediately to all devices registered.

Smart plug

Smart plugs like the Belkin WeMo not only allow you to turn any appliance into a smart one but also allow you to track and optimise the power that you’re using. Handy for any device that you need to control remotely!

Smart smoke detector

One of the best smoke/CO2 detectors is the Nest Protect. The smart thing about these, is that they will send a notification to your if any problems arise, whether you’re at the premises or not. If activated accidentally, they can also be switched off using the app saving you having to drive back to the premises to and find a ladder to switch off.

Smart clinic automation

While each of these devices in isolation can improve how you operate your clinic, it’s in your Assistant’s ability to automate processes that can make your clinic very smart.

As you approach in the morning, your security device will recognise your phone approaching. This can trigger lights, air-conditioning and music to switch on (and maybe your coffee machine could start warming up also). If you need to close urgently during the day, you can be safe in the knowledge that critical equipment will switch off, that your security system will be armed and your doors locked. When you’re on holidays, you can be assured that your premises are secure and that should disaster strike, you’re able to call the emergency services before jumping in the car to be on site.

With new devices being released on what seems like a daily basis, and the maturity of the current technology available, there is no time like the present to take the plunge and make your clinic smarter. AMP