Impacts of the pandemic in healthcare
On the frontlines of the pandemic, healthcare organizations have faced perhaps the most abrupt and demanding changes as the result of the past few months. At West Suffolk Hospital in the U.K., things changed rapidly. “We’re a 500-bed hospital serving a population of 278,000 people in a fairly rural area. Very early on, the impact was incredible. Within a matter of days, we discharged patients without serious conditions and converted one whole ward to become an intensive care unit,” said Mike Bone, CIO at West Suffolk NHS.
As was the case for most hospitals, impacts of the pandemic in healthcare began with government policy enacted to keep infection levels countrywide at a level national health services could cope with. For West Suffolk NHS, the organization began increasing remote workers within the first few weeks. In fact, within one month, only around one third of nonclinical hospital staff remained in the building. Since the virus has progressed, the hospital has been through lockdown as well as the lessening of lockdown conditions. Today, West Suffolk NHS is looking at an entirely new, significantly more flexible way of working. “It’s about having the ability to adapt how and where employees work to meet the needs of the organization. Now, we’re planning to restart some of the basic operations to restore healthcare while keeping around one third of hospital capacity for COVID patients,” Bone explained.
Expanding digital healthcare services into the future
Digital health services aren’t a result of COVID-19, but their prominence in healthcare increased quickly since the onset of the pandemic. “The difficulty has been moving both our patients and clinical workforce to adoption,” Bone stated. For West Suffolk NHS, most hospital patient consultations were moved to audio or video conferences. Fortunately, the public has been receptive, and hospital leadership doesn’t expect a return to healthcare as it used to be.
Information sharing has also been a major accelerator. Healthcare organizations around the world are working to share and get the necessary information to clinicians, enabling the ability to make an informed decision about patients. Governments seem to be allowing more flexibility for IT as they’ve relaxed procurement rules and made way for agility. “In my own area we’ve managed to connect over 300 healthcare entities together very quickly and made that patient data available,” said Bone.
Three ways technology has adopted and adjusted for a digital healthcare environment
Especially since the onset of the pandemic, an industry-wide shift is taking place to move away from desktop computers and fixed technology in favor of laptops and equipment that can work anywhere. This relates to operating a strong infrastructure. “If you can’t connect a to a service, you can’t deliver that change,” Bone commented.
Healthcare is moving toward a “click-and-collect” type of model to minimize the amount of interaction between people. Healthcare orgs are aiming to make it easy to order routine drugs and other consumables for patient care, ideally having them delivered to the home.
Healthcare is looking at innovative technologies to solve for some of the healthcare activities that previously required in-person interaction. “Can we adopt artificial intelligence for image processing? Can we use machine learning to drive clinical algorithms and make decisions about patients’ healthcare?,” said Bone. Healthcare is looking to change that which currently operates in a regular intervention model to one that’s triggered by technology running in the patient home.
IT considerations for healthcare decision-makers
One common trend across industries is to start with your infrastructure; healthcare included. Begin by investing in your infrastructure as the priority. Don’t overlook governance – can it be reshaped to support current initiatives?
“Start with your investing in your infrastructure. If you don’t have the platform, building anything is hard work.” -Mike Bone, CIO, West Suffolk NHS
This blog touches on a few of the focus points in healthcare reviewed in the webinar, but the recorded session itself reviews far more topics fully. If you’re interested in how the pandemic has changed healthcare, what to expect for the future and best practices for IT leaders as the new normal unfolds, check out the webinar on demand: Establishing a New Normal: Key Considerations for IT Leaders.