by Pat Nolan | 06/30/2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has given pause to nearly every facet of the world as we know it. The sudden and unpredictable nature of this global crisis has urged every element of society and industry to take a step back and reevaluate how it functions. Immediate changes have been put in place across the board with many more near term pivots-in-practice sure to come; a long term reshaping of business-as-usual is a certainty as well. It is difficult to say any given industry is the most impacted by COVID-19 because so many have been so severely disrupted. Among the industries shaken up by the coronavirus, however, it is safe to say that the pressures on healthcare systems have been especially tough.
With a stringent regulatory landscape (Figure 1), healthcare organizations are traditionally slow to utilize the latest frontline technologies – greater caution is necessary when highly personal information and lives are on the line. However, it is unlikely that the massively disruptive impact of the coronavirus pandemic has strained any industry more so than healthcare. These organizations’ frontline workers and their patients are highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19. Their ability to manage this crisis is also a matter of cross-industry operational feasibility and public health in the near and long term. As the world collectively attempts to safely reopen and return to some semblance of normalcy, the healthcare space faces extreme pressures to have an accelerated adoption of technological tools to help reduce human-to-human contact in its environments and to approach next steps with more intelligent insight.
The most immediately promising technology options for healthcare organizations to use in order to safely maintain and even enhance their operations through COVID-19’s lasting impact are the collaborative solutions already approved for clinical environments. Although EHR and EMR interoperability challenges initially created plenty of app gaps for medical scenarios compared to other enterprise mobility use cases, there are now a number of purpose-built frontline clinical devices and applications that can be leveraged more extensively throughout the industry in these demanding times. Vocera Communications, for instance, has been creating collaborative technologies (including its flagship wearable badge solutions) specifically for clinicians for two decades. Vocera has recently outlined a number of ways in which to use such solutions to better operate clinical operations with COVID-19 in mind. Although the company’s guide is much more detailed, to summarize, a wearable mobile device allows clinicians to use voice-based, hands-free communications while wearing PPE and to instantly stay connected and informed of all critical facility, faculty and patient activity while on site or at home. Although there is nothing innately high tech about these use cases, the difference between real-time collaboration and delayed (even slightly) communications is an immense one.
Beyond straightforward yet necessary information sharing solutions, other technologies that could help optimize healthcare organizations through this pandemic are as chock-full of prohibiting factors as they are potential. As Sirina Keesara, M.D., Andrea Jonas, M.D., and Kevin Schulman, M.D. write in a recent New England Journal of Medicine piece:
“The U.S. healthcare industry is structured on the historically necessary model of in-person interactions between patients and their clinicians. Clinical workflows and economic incentives have largely been developed to support and reinforce a face-to-face model of care, resulting in the congregation of patients in emergency departments and waiting areas during this crisis… As healthcare systems nationwide brace for a surge of Covid-19 cases, urgent action is required to transform healthcare delivery and to scale up our systems by unleashing the power of digital technologies”
This traditionally analogue system needs greater open-mindedness to digital innovation in order to mitigate the crippling effects that COVID-19 and future public health crises have on it. A crucial starting point for this sector’s required opening embrace of technology is telehealth. Remote healthcare solutions are nothing new, yet the quoted NEJM article sites that over a third of “of chief executive officers of U.S. healthcare systems reported having no digital component in their overall strategic plan” largely because of privacy regulations and HIPAA compliance. Such barriers are important pieces of industry oversight and safety, but caution does not need to be synonymous with inactivity. Telehealth technologies give healthcare operations the ability to take the collaborative nature of purpose-built frontline devices and apps and extend it to remote patient environments – remote monitoring, health assessments and clinician-patient communications reduce risky in-person encounters and lighten the burden for clinicians and patients alike.
Another promising technology for enabling the healthcare industry’s continued operational efficacy through and after the current pandemic is artificial intelligence. Collaborative frontline solutions improve clinician-to-clinician collaboration, telehealth offerings improve clinician-to-patient workflows, and AI will improve machine-to-clinician communications. This last step helps healthcare systems make better sense of an increasing number of data points at quicker speeds. Across all industries, frontline workers’ access to operational information in a visualized, digestible and insightful way is imperative to increasing productivity and safety, coronavirus or not. In an article for MIT Technology Review, AI reporter Karen Hao highlights one example of AI’s potential in healthcare amid the pandemic and onwards. AI-based tools, the article explains, can help clinicians expedite coronavirus-related diagnoses and triaging processes via x-ray examination to the end of reduced patient wait times and alleviated staffing shortage pressures.
It is difficult to find an appropriate balance of speed and safety in healthcare as it relates to technology adoption, especially during a crisis – to rush into new technology deployments in clinical environments comes with inherent risks, and to wait too long lets healthcare systems become overwhelmed and stunted without the help of new tools. Still, the tech categories mentioned here are likely to experience both near-term growth and staying power in this industry as it evolves alongside a coronavirus-impacted world.
If your organization operates within the healthcare space or develops solutions targeting healthcare operations and you would like to discuss the state of frontline technologies in the industry, please reach out to Pat Nolan at pnolan [at] vdcresearch.com. Otherwise, follow VDC Research and our Enterprise Mobility and the Connected Worker practice on social media to keep up with all of our latest reporting.
View the 2020 Enterprise Mobility and the Connected Worker Research Outline to learn more