by Aashima Gupta
Five months after COVID-19 was formally declared a pandemic, the disease continues to deeply impact the healthcare and life sciences industry.
Care providers are faced with critical shortages of both staff and supplies. COVID-19 has deeply exacerbated razor-thin operating margins, and health systems are furloughing employees because of delayed procedures and surgeries, all while the industry grapples with the question of how to provide the right care at the right time, in the right setting and most cost-efficient way.
Payers are seeing their portfolio mix change due to millions of newly unemployed Americans and are stepping up help by eliminating activities such as prior authorization to enable hospitals and physicians to focus on clinical care. The pharmaceutical sector is racing to create potential vaccines and antibody tests while also facing its own supply chain issues.
As the pandemic unfolds, it’s worth noting that not all lasting effects will be negative. Just as the adoption of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago spurred healthcare organizations to digitize their records, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating overdue technological shifts crucial to providing better care.
Perhaps the most prominent change has been the widespread adoption of telehealth services and technologies that use video to connect patients with both urgent and preventive care without their having to leave home.
Organizations everywhere are ramping up to meet the need. With visitor restrictions in place across its hospitals in nine states, the Florida-based nonprofit AdventHealth is deploying laptops and a HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing platform so patients can see their loved ones.
Other solutions are breathtakingly simple. Nurses at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, N.J., are using baby monitors to communicate with COVID-19 patients in critical care, thus reducing the number of times they need to enter an isolation room to preserve limited protective equipment.
Two hours north, in Paramus, N.J., the Bergen New Bridge Medical Center uses its own telehealth service to determine if a COVID-19 test is necessary. The idea: keep unlikely and noncritical cases out of high-risk areas.
Better Access, Funding and User Experience for Telehealth
Today, telehealth is about creating digital touchpoints when no other contact is possible or safe.
It offers potential to expand care to people in remote areas who might have limited or nonexistent access, and it could let other health workers handle patient screening and post-care follow-up when a local facility is overwhelmed. As a study published last year in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine affirms, virtual care can cut the cost of healthcare delivery and relieve strain on busy clinicians.
Telehealth has also gotten a boost from the $2 trillion CARES Act stimulus fund, which provides $130 billion to healthcare organizations fighting the pandemic. The effort also makes it easier for providers to bill for remote services.
To sustain these gains after the current crisis has passed, the experience has to be as simple and frictionless as possible. As anyone who has spent the first 10 minutes of a video meeting getting people to unmute their audio knows, that’s not always the case.
Telehealth delivery must be easier and more convenient for both patients and providers than it is in its current form. This requires training for all parties and a strong technical support team.
Actionable Information, Greater Interoperability Will Benefit Patient Care
Many other important developments are in motion. Technology companies have been working tirelessly to bridge the gap to healthcare. As we’ve witnessed firsthand with the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of healthcare providers and organizations — as well as patients — continue to rapidly evolve. Technology must do the same.
The cloud can offer healthcare providers the infrastructure, security, collaboration and other capabilities needed to adapt to these urgent requirements.
From creating a website dedicated to provide accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19 to making technology that lets providers more easily share information with their colleagues, a culture of collaboration is crucial. It’s also key to supporting interoperability and improved patient access.
In the end, our aspiration for technology is that it can bridge the gulf between people, whether caused by geographic distance or a global pandemic, and achieve the universal goal of better health.
YOSHIYOSHI HIROKAWA/GETTY IMAGES
Aashima Gupta spearheads healthcare strategy and solutions for Google Cloud. In her role, she sets the direction for the transformative healthcare solutions and leads engagement with key healthcare executives in helping transform their business strategies to define new models for care, revenue generation and improved care experiences.