By Jeff Fallon, chairman and CEO, eVideon Healthcare.
Hospitals are changing their approach to patient care as a result of COVID-19. Though this may seem obvious, most healthcare technology conversations about COVID-19 revolve around the adoption of telehealth.
While hospitals are still in varying stages of adopting the technology, even conservative estimates show increases around 65% since before the pandemic. Surely that figure will grow to be much higher.
But healthcare’s technological revolution goes well beyond telehealth. Years ago, hospitals (sometimes unwittingly) entered the first major technology overhaul with the mandatory adoption of EHRs. While opinions differ on the ROI of that massive investment of time and money, there’s no denying EHRs completely transformed healthcare and established a new source of information for hospitals.
EHRs created more than just a new medical record; they threw open new potential to connect an ocean of wonderful but siloed technologies in a way that could transform the future of hospitals everywhere.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say now that telehealth and other digital health solutions will transform healthcare in a similarly large way. While patients can now speak to a doctor from their homes, the openness and willingness in the industry to change the way we look at how we connect patients to providers (not to mention families when in isolation, hospital services, and education) carries more potential than just visiting a doctor from home. Similar to how EHRs were considered just beginning years ago, telehealth is just beginning now.
COVID-19 played a cruel trick on healthcare. The novel and highly contagious virus made treating patients with as little physical contact as possible a newly dangerous challenge for everybody.
Hospitals have had to rethink everything — waiting rooms, physical therapy, visitation policies, end-of-life care, meal delivery, lobbies, and disseminating even the most basic information. But with careful and innovative thought, these things can be done differently, with digital health tools being one small, but vital piece of the puzzle.
Technology can do so much more than healthcare has allowed it to do up until now. Nobody ever wanted to sit in a waiting room with other sick people and germ-covered magazines. People accepted it, but waiting rooms may now be obsolete.
Apps, scheduling technology, and messaging systems have helped providers pinpoint timing better and bring patients in only when it’s time for them to be seen. Patients can now complete intake forms electronically, rather than touch the pens and clipboards so many other sick patients have touched, and fill out forms manually and on paper, when paperless systems are so commonplace in other industries.
For years, in-room patient engagement technologies have allowed patients to enjoy a variety of services that used to be considered comfort and convenience, but have proven to be vital components of healthcare now.
Decrease person-to-person interaction by letting patients order meals electronically. Let them schedule those meals for whenever they’d like so hospitals reduce food waste from unwanted meals that were delivered while a patient was sleeping or busy.
While digital meal ordering might seem like a simple change, it has ramifications in printing costs and personnel required to take phone calls or process orders. It also removes another potential contaminant (the paper menu) from the patient room. One small change has a significant impact.
Using the communication systems hospitals already have can help, too. Bedside interactive patient systems connect patients to anyone in the hospital they need, letting them skip the nurse call button and route messages to the right place. For example, if a patient needs a glass of water, a simple “request a drink” button can notify the right person right away, so nurses don’t have to run from room to room helping patients with non-clinical tasks. Nurses can be freed to focus on clinical care.
When we think about “telehealth,” we usually think about a person at home video chatting with a doctor. But what about a person in a hospital bed bringing their doctor to their loved ones at home for a family consult? What about a loved one at home being able to see and speak with a person in end-of-life care while that person is in isolation?
We have the technology, and hospitals know that now is the time to connect their systems — EHRs, telehealth, and bedside solutions — to truly revolutionize healthcare and prepare for a future where patients won’t settle for inconvenience, let alone environments that make them feel unsafe.