Through the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have turned to technology like never before. Here, Mike Jones, vice president and team manager at Gartner, looks at the growing role of tech in the sector going forward
The COVID-19 outbreak is perhaps the most salient example of a crisis that has had a profound direct or indirect impact on healthcare providers across the globe. It is disrupting the entire system, from staff availability to overwhelming providers due to the influx of patient care requirements.
The global pandemic is a turning point for healthcare providers and their CIOs. It is dramatically accelerating digital initiatives and business goals and impacting how organisations plan operations beyond the pandemic.
At a local, regional, and national level, CIOs from public and private healthcare systems have rapidly scaled new technologies to mitigate disruption to normal operations. On the other hand, healthcare providers have had to meet the surge in patient demand, and handle shortages in availability healthcare staff.
COVID-19: a learning curve
In times of a crisis, agility is key and new technologies can help address this imbalance.
The ability to have healthcare staff work remotely and collaborate across care teams while avoiding close contact is an example of how healthcare providers successfully shifted their operations. This is a practice that will likely remain for some time. The IT systems deployed during the crisis were critical to the running of services across hospital and healthcare teams.
Similarly, the increased use of virtual care solutions to support a range of clinical scenarios such as remote outpatient consultations, and remote patient monitoring for people with chronic conditions was observed in many health systems. The use of virtual health assistants (or health chat bots) to help triage patients prior to connecting with a care team as this proved useful as it helped protect clinical staff time and provide the public with important advice on where to seek help.
Going forward: beyond the pandemic
As we move forward in 2021 and we see many regions move to a recovery mode, CIOs will face new challenges. Healthcare providers do not want to lose the momentum they have gained.
Many CIOs are now actively assessing the changes they made during the peak of the pandemic, identifying critical success factors for their organisation, and looking to embed these practices into their everyday operations.
From Gartner’s global roundtable discussions and webinars with CIOs we understand how healthcare providers are now working to identify where digital tools can help with longer term recovery and a more radical overhaul of the traditional operating model for care delivery.
For example, CIOs reminded us that there was an expectation that the ongoing operating model for hospitals and primary healthcare services will see up to 30 per cent of services being offered as virtual consultations. – an increase by 25-30 per cent of activity in some care settings.
This is not surprising – look at the increase in users turning to GPs online and the emergence of new digital health platforms that support this rising trend. Embracing this new way of working will help alleviate staff pressure, enabling them to focus on reducing the backlog of routine care and address more serious illnesses face-to-face.
The pandemic also proved effective in developing a plan for healthcare providers to be better prepared for future crisis management scenarios – whether they are natural crises, such as snowstorms and earthquakes, or another pandemic.
A clear example would be the emergence and spread of new and more transmissible COVID-19 variants as social and economic restrictions lift. Learning from the experiences of the past year will help providers mitigate future scenarios.
New technologies required as we emerge from the pandemic
CIOs are looking to find new solutions and deploy new technologies to help with the backlog crisis that healthcare staff will face as we emerge from the pandemic.
Establishing more interconnected IT and management systems across different healthcare services and real-time location systems to help track equipment will be critical to support this. There’s a clear opportunity for healthcare providers to leverage new technology to continue delivering its day-to-day services, while fast-tracking and restoring operations that were halted or disrupted in light of the pandemic.
For CIOs looking to future-proof their operations management for future crises and emergencies, the rapid acceleration and adoption of digital tools, such as virtual meetings and online patient appointments, will be essential to meet disruption.
We’ve seen how these new ways of working have benefitted both the patient and healthcare staff and how embedding these in their everyday operations can help mitigate emergencies.
But also, not shying away from testing new technologies and investing in these, will help healthcare providers shift their response from a reactive approach to a more proactive one. They will also ensure they’re better prepared to deal with future crises while also restoring operations.