New opportunity arises out of crisis.
While improving patient accessibility and enabling new healthcare delivery models has always been a goal of digital transformation in healthcare, the onset of the COVID-19 crises forced healthcare providers to shift focus to achieving the broadest set of positive outcomes, keeping their clinicians safe and, hopefully, lowering the infection transmission rate for the community.
Virtually overnight, organization’s controlled digital transformation suddenly became a seismic shift. Some healthcare providers already provide sophisticated telehealth systems, which utilize a secure screen-to-screen exams, remote monitoring and visual diagnostic tools and the integration of patient information directly into virtual charts. But for many, the quick onset of the crisis forced the use of less formal visual solutions like FaceTime or Zoom, or even good old-fashioned telephone calls, to provide quick collaboration.
In emergency solidarity, most patients have been forgiving of these modifications to their healthcare experience. However, depending on the length of the crises, their patience may wane. In addition, the workflows for clinicians and staff has become more complicated, making the digital clinician experience arduous.
In response, many healthcare systems are leveraging technology to aid in the triage, testing and treatment of novel coronovirus cases. Digital tools such as telehealth, remote patient monitoring, data analytics and even consumer-facing AI-based chatbots could play a role in improving the reaction time for infected patients, while calming the doubts of the general population.
Transitioning from telemedicine to telehealth
Telemedicine has been around for a long time in varying degrees of sophistication. On its surface, telemedicine seems to be the perfect solution for the current pandemic. However, industry-wide, adoption by both patients and providers has been comparatively low until now. It took a crisis of the COVID-19 magnitude to show the value of telemedicine.
Even health specialties not traditionally utilizing telemedicine, like physical therapy and long-term care, are accelerating remote accessibility and replacing lost revenues. However, it’s also shown a spotlight on the experiential gaps for telemedicine for both patients and clinicians.
Inconsistent connections, poor onboarding and the need for some physicians to use multiple platforms and screens can make charting challenging. All of these obstacles illustrate the need for stronger interoperability and asynchronous telehealth.
Leveraging the technology beyond the doctor-patient relationship creates broader accessibility for patients and collaboration among healthcare professionals even when there is not a crisis. By improving telehealth capabilities, healthcare systems can improve the digital patient experience while more easily balancing staffing, creating clinician efficiencies, expanding access to specialized care, reducing costs and potentially improving health outcomes by increasing patient engagement.
In a world of self-quarantine and social distancing, remote monitoring with Internet of Things (IoT) devices do more than monitor non-critical COVID-19 patients from home and help reduce the risk of transmission. It could potentially help move other non-critical patients out of hospitals where they can be infected.
Physiological signals such as temperature, respiration and heart rate can be measured by IoT wearables during the patient’s quarantine, detecting worsening conditions and alerting care teams to impending issues.
In addition, inpatient IoT usage helps improve patient experience and safety. Remotely monitoring COVID-19 patients for temporary ICUs being set up in hospitals now may effectively limit the exposure of other patients, as well as the care teams. Alerts can be intelligently routed to the appropriate clinicians to improve response times and patient safety.
Leveraging AI and big data
Health systems from North Carolina’s Novant Health to the Cleveland Clinic have already invested in the development of AI. Their AI-based algorithms can provide information about patients who have already been diagnosed or who a clinician suspects of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, however, the overall value increases when layering the remote monitoring of these patients with clinical-grade sensors.
Virtual models of care are assisted by AI in sharing and processing data from devices, recording and translating consultations and supporting physician decisions when processing test results or scans. Then these learnings can be combined with other data like laboratory and imaging tests to create a composite engine to help understand the disease better, potentially leading to better detection, and even prediction, of the early signs of infection.
Improving patient engagement and leveraging self-directed care
Many healthcare systems are leveraging technology to aid in patient experience and engagement.
Consumer-facing AI-based chatbots could play a role in improving the reaction time for infected patients while calming the doubts of the general population.
For example, Providence St. John Health, ground zero for the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the U.S., implemented a chatbot to help patients understand their situation, thus eliminating the need to travel to a health facility and increasing their exposure risk. The chatbot also links to on-demand telehealth visits and nurse hotlines.
These virtual assistants and chatbots can answer common questions, providing patients with an improved digital experience while freeing up clinicians to focus on the most critical cases.
The current usage of appointment scheduling technology can help alleviate busy phone lines or even to route self-triage, non-critical patients to a telemedicine visit.
Some healthcare systems, like Providence St. Joseph,Banner Health in Arizona and Midwest-based OSF Healthcare have developed a configurable online symptom checker can help determine a person’s risk based on a number of factors. Paired with an on-demand telehealth visit, this type of tool can also alleviate patient fears without the need to travel to a clinic or hospital.
Managing scarce resources
Supply chain and allocation of health resources, like personal protective equipment for front-line workers, is critical when treating and reducing the spread of COVID-19.
As the influx of patients increases, tight inventory management of medical supplies, personal protective equipment and hospital assets will become critical. Some healthcare systems like Kaiser Permanente in California have already implemented IoT to manage medical equipment throughout their facilities.
Expanded usage of IoT — intelligent inventory and supply chain management, tracking diagnostic samples, asset management and even staff and clinician traffic patterns — is ideal for a pandemic. Using RFID chips and system-wide beacons helps ensure proper inventory levels, efficient use of equipment and even allocation and scheduling of medical teams to meet the most critical needs of the entire system.
Collaboration expedites patient recovery time
Healthcare is a team sport. Clinicians are naturally collaborative, and efficient communication creates a "digital huddle" that can help expedite their decisions on COVID-19 treatment protocols, ultimately improving overall health outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Frictionless, reliable access to clinical applications provide a 360-degree view of a patient’s health from anywhere to optimize diagnosis when working from home or providing telemedicine services.
Many healthcare systems are employing innovative tools to collaborate like push notifications to clinician mobile devices, unified real-time communication, digital clinical libraries, interoperability of electronic health records and collaborative virtual workspaces offering the ability to chat with specialists worldwide.
As our response to COVID-19 continues, we’re witnessing our healthcare system collaborating in remarkable and innovative ways to deal with this unprecedented challenge. This crisis will test the resilience of our healthcare system, but the outcome could potentially be a new era of digital patient and clinician experience.