By Adam Edwards, chief customer officer, AppNeta.
Well before the world was forced to go remote, there was a transformation taking place in the medical sphere that held the keys to a whole new way of serving patients. A myriad of connected devices and digital workflows were being developed in healthcare that would streamline manual processes and improve efficiency for both patients and providers alike.
When in-person visits for relatively healthy patients proved too risky beginning in the spring of 2020, Medicare temporarily waived restrictions on certain telehealth initiatives predating the smartphone era, and patients and providers didn’t hesitate to buy in. This transformation has stuck, as providers and patients have largely found a comfortable balance in meeting each other digitally.
Siemens Healthineers, for instance, found that while many of their healthcare provider customers felt strained adapting their services at the beginning of the pandemic, new remote strategies that were put in place as stopgap measures, like having workers who aren’t directly involved with patient care log on remotely, proved to solve a slew of chronic challenges.
Digitally-delivered remote care can also have a substantial impact on patient experience even when caregivers and patients are in the same building. Just as non-critical-care health professionals (ie. Patient Administration) can access office work from home, nurses and doctors who may be in the same building as those in their care can treat patients at a safe distance by leveraging a bevy of remote working tools.
The three primary benefits of remote care and telehealth on the short and long term include:
- Ensuring patient and worker safety: While limiting human exposure to viral infection is an immediate concern that telehealth addresses, we’re learning lessons today that we’ll apply across the board when it comes to patient and provider safety via telemedicine. For instance, providing care becomes less hazardous at a distance when doctors and nurses aren’t exposed to radiation during cardiovascular treatments. Telehealth also limits the need for time-consuming hygiene protocols when there’s less physical interaction between patients and caregivers.
- Solving resource and capacity limitations: While there were many reports about a lack of ventilators during the first peak of the pandemic in the US, there was also a dearth of professionals available to actually operate this machinery. Remote healthcare solutions can be implemented in times like this to connect experienced operators with staff-strapped hospitals to share their expertise, all while monitoring a patient’s vital signs from afar. Many patients also find it more convenient to schedule telehealth appointments with their providers as this offers more schedule flexibility since travel requirements hinders their ability to visit the provider’s office.
- Improving efficiency and care quality: When non-critical workers in the healthcare field don’t have to worry about exposure to the stresses (and viruses) of the doctor’s office or hospital, there’s a significantly lower risk of burnout. This has the potential to, in turn, lower the incident of treatment errors, while increasing productivity and morale.
However, the rush to remote care and away from the doctor’s office isn’t going to represent a total reversal overnight on how the industry operates, even though it succeeded in times of stress. For many healthcare providers centered in more ISP-rich population hubs, reaching rural communities involves ensuring the delivery of traffic across a bevy of stakeholders (local ISPs, transit networks, etc.).
There are also massive network connections that healthcare IT teams need to bear in mind, as healthcare providers collect more personal and (and federally protected) data on customers and their services than nearly any industry. It’s not just that the provider’s IT organization must assure that they own, manage and have control over their customer data across these network connections; these administrative, application and network domains must work seamlessly with the third-party systems they integrate with, including external lab, pharmacy, imaging, payment, insurance, and referral partners, all of which are using SaaS and hybrid apps that live in unique problem domains. These and other concerns will need to be addressed for current programs to succeed on the long-term.
With workers in patient administration systems (PAS) roles being the most optimally suited to WFH, healthcare IT teams need to help ensure that these workers can remotely and securely access all of the tools and data that’s critical to their role. Healthcare networks therefore need to be able to adequately plan and allocate network capacity to support ever-growing digital workloads and data sets, whether that’s between hospitals, remote offices or out to a user’s home.
Another chronic problem that telehealth and remote care solves is bridging the distance between specialists and those in need. Patients with certain conditions may have a local hospital, for instance, but lack access to a specialist who can treat their condition. Similarly, during times of crisis, hospitals may have access to important equipment (ie. ventilators at the start of the pandemic) but a complete lack of qualified staff to treat all users. Telehealth solutions can help bridge this distance, but only when the network supporting these tools are continuously monitored to detect issues before specialists and patients are impacted.\
With so many considerations, healthcare IT teams can’t be leveraging a patchwork of solutions to glean this visibility across their rapidly expanding network footprint. Rather, they need a solution that can zero in on issues across any app or any location, whether it’s across a data center campus or a remote location. With comprehensive network performance visibility, healthcare IT can overcome the short-term challenges of adopting telehealth and telemedicine by proactively addressing issues and shoring up their infrastructure to ensure long-term success.