In the past few months, telehealth services have helped many to obtain medical services and avoid exposure to COVID-19 while freeing up resources for those facing graver conditions. This is a great example of an unexpected circumstance quickening the adoption of new technology that will remain after the crisis has passed, but the rapid adoption has also overwhelmed telehealth services, illustrating the importance of network resilience.
Telehealth is just one relatively new application of technology that’s part of a constantly growing repertoire of connected tools. To provide optimal patient care, healthcare ecosystems require constant connectivity to many other bandwidth-intensive applications, such as IoT devices, systems to process patient data via electronic health records (EHR) and picture archiving systems (PACS). With experts predicting the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) market to be worth $158.1 billion USD by 2022 (Deloitte), we can only expect this trend to grow.
With all these new advancements come new risks. Healthcare systems are comprised of multiple facilities, such as hospitals, labs and urgent care units that all have multi-point connectivity requirements. This requires higher capacity wide area networks (WAN) – often in the form of software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN). If one of these points loses connectivity for reasons like a cyber-attack, an interoperability issue or a bad SD-WAN router update, the entire network could go offline.
To keep healthcare networks running, organizations need intelligent systems and processes to monitor every piece of equipment, prevent issues, and recover from incidents quickly. This will ensure the secure, always-on availability needed to decrease costs, meet strict regulatory requirements, and improve patient experiences.
Top challenges that can bring your healthcare network down
Three large challenges healthcare organizations face are protecting data, staying online during network consolidations, and unexpected incidents like natural disasters or physical equipment disruptions. These could all bring the primary network offline.
Cyber criminals constantly seek to breach data networks and harvest patient data. In this regard, ransomware attacks, which are primarily transmitted through spam/phishing or other manipulations of unprepared users operating in the primary data plane, cause many healthcare enterprises to shut down computer systems, including their EHR. No topic is off limits to hackers, and even in the past few months, research has revealed phrases like “corona” or “covid” have been featured in spam emails (RiskIQ).
Weather a health system is seeking to modernize its infrastructure or a merger has led to a large transformation, consolidating networks can also be a challenge, requiring the migration of a multitude of apps and hardware components that must stay online at all times and integrate with one another in a cohesive system.
Lastly, unexpected outages from physical events can bring a system offline by disrupting vulnerable points like last mile connections. In this regard, a wide range of network components, such as cable interconnects, switches, power supplies, storage arrays, or chillers could present problems. To support new technologies, network environments are only becoming more complex, which means more software stacks that are frequently updated and susceptible to exploits, bugs and cyberattacks.
Much like the formation of New Year’s Resolutions, the prediction of technology trends for the coming year has become a tradition among pundits, analysts and vendors alike. As the calendar turned to 2020, Hyland, like many, took the opportunity to look into a crystal ball to predict what the future might hold for the software industry at large, as well as many of the key vertical markets in which it operates.
For example, Hyland leadership revealed six overarching trends for enterprise technology as well as key trends to watch for health IT. At the time, none of us could have foreseen that a global pandemic was coming that would turn all of these predictions on their collective ears.
Of course, the healthcare industry has been particularly impacted by COVID-19. Provider organizations have justifiably focused their attention on responding to the new patient care and staffing needs brought about by the virus. That said, all of the health IT trends Hyland outlined at the beginning of 2020 (interoperability, artificial intelligence and cloud adoption) still have relevance in today’s unprecedented landscape. Although, admittedly, the reasons these topics are trending are for vastly different reasons than we originally anticipated.
I want to revisit these trends under the lens of COVID-19 as well as add a few more to the list in light of current circumstances.
Original insight: Secure access to patient information at any facility throughout a care continuum is an imperative for delivering a longitudinal digital record that travels with the patient. The key is to ensure tight integration between disparate IT systems, and to include unstructured data in the interoperability equation. As much as 80% of essential patient information is in an unstructured format – such as digital photos and videos, or physician notes – and not natively included in an electronic medical record (EMR) system. When removed from a clinician’s view, the patient record is incomplete.
New relevance: Health IT interoperability was important prior to COVID-19, and it’s even more critical now. Providers, patients and public health officials need all-encompassing data in a standardized format to better understand this evolving illness and develop guidelines. The effort to identify risk, control spread and manage the treatment of afflicted patients is a coordinated effort among multiple healthcare providers and external care partners. The easier information can be shared among these varied stakeholders, the better equipped we’ll be to combat the virus.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Original insight: Realistic applications of AI are coming into focus in healthcare, showing where the technology will help providers optimize workflows and better analyze the vast amounts of information needed to support improved decision making. Experts view AI technology as complementary and a true asset when it comes to helping physicians analyze the overwhelming amount of patient data they receive daily. Physicians can implement AI to streamline or eliminate tedious tasks, such as manual documentation and data search, or cull information to help them focus on a key area of interest.
The medical imaging space in particular provides a tremendous area for the growth of AI and machine-learning technologies. Clinicians can use them to analyze thousands of anonymized diagnostic patient images to identify and detect indicators of everything from lung cancer to liver disease. These technologies are also being used to accelerate research.
New relevance: AI is being used in a number of ways to address the challenges of COVID-19. For example, AI algorithms have been used to identify the spread of new clusters of unexplained pneumonia cases. Other AI applications are being used to spot signs of COVID-19 infections in chest X-rays and identify patients at high-risk of coronavirus complications based on their pre-existing medical conditions. Still others are scanning the molecular breakdown of the virus itself as well as those of existing drug compounds to identify medications that can potentially target the virus and shorten the span of the illness or lessen the severity of the symptoms. In all of these scenarios, AI is quickly analyzing large segments of data to accelerate research and treatment. This automation is indispensable in an environment where medical staff are stretched to their limits, and the act of saving time could save lives.
The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the future of healthcare. In fact, I’d like to argue that the future is here today as demonstrated in digital health. Within weeks, this pandemic spread across our healthcare system, shutting down the traditional care delivery model and forcing us to adopt technology.
Supporting patients in a social distancing time did not provide many options but to turn to the advancements that already exist. We simply had to turn to the existing technology available and flip the switch to deploy our future healthcare model.
This is most evident with the rise of telehealth usage in lieu of point-of-care facilities such as doctor’s offices. Since the coronavirus outbreak telehealth has experienced a surge of 1,700%, particularly supporting mental health patients.
But what do patients need during this crisis and will they adopt technology as future healthcare models? We recently surveyed Medisafe users to better understand their concerns and needs during this outbreak. What we discovered is that patients are extremely appreciative of the ability to touch base, acknowledge this crisis and ask “how can we help?”
Noting that this is a primary concern, and with more than 7,000 patients responding, a majority of whom are very concerned about the coronavirus and its effects, we need to think about how to best reach a community in need an empathetic solution is needed more than ever.
Additionally, with the recent surge in telehealth to compensate for social distancing it is evident that are gaps in the daily connections and check-ins required from patients managing medications.
A majority of patients are in some form of social distancing and 55% of patients indicated that they are concerned that the coronavirus will interfere with their medication regimens. Enter the role of the digital companions. From a telemedicine solution, digital companions can offer additional insights as well as aiding in isolation by deploying guidance in a rapid response while offering a human touch in times of isolation.
Digital health technologies also offer support beyond a virtual “check-in” that can digitally handhold patients with their everyday needs, especially those managing chronic conditions or multiple medications. Digital companions keep patients continuously connected with condition management and care givers. For example, patients on multiple medications or managing complex doses or even taking injections require additional support at while at home to remain adherent to their treatment.
Digital health platforms are adept to support patients during this time, bridging isolation and bringing healthcare support into their home. In fact, more than 42% of our patients indicated that they have changed their traditional treatment routines by adopting telehealth. In addition to telehealth, digital companions offer features to keep patients connected.
Following the survey, we opened unlimited Medfriend capabilities which digitally connects family or friends with the patient’s medication schedules. Immediately, we saw Medfriend engagement activity triple. In fact, one user replied, “My mental health isn’t great right now, so knowing that you’ll tell my Medfriend if I haven’t taken [my medication] is great.”
Connection to care givers is also critical to digitize the care support teams. Fewer field support home visits are also creating concerns with patients, “I appreciate the help you’re giving. My doctor put me in home isolation 2.5 weeks ago for my sake, the only people I see are my caregivers but now they are not allowed to visit.”
Digital health that connects the daily interactions of patients with care support teams fill a critical gap. Clinicians can monitor their patient panels by following tracked activities and in fact scale their monitoring capabilities of one to many. Digital companions keep patients on therapy but also notify care support teams when patients behavior is at-risk. The combination of high-tech and high-touch is quite powerful to support patients managing chronic conditions.
Ultimately, humanizing your digital capabilities goes a long way. Digital health at its core operates on sophisticated data-driven AI to deliver personalized interventions at time of need. It’s within each of these interactions that the digital support becomes more and more relevant for patients establishing a digital relationship, trust and loyalty. However, during a crisis we also need to make sure to “check-in.”
We are all human on each end of this digital connection and when dealing with medical conditions alone during a crisis a human touch goes a long way, best stated by a patient: “I’m good. Just knowing that you are out there is a good feeling.”
Tech innovations are improving senior care by breaking down data and communication silos. That’s important in normal times and infinitely more so during times of crisis, when clear, timely communication and flexible access to care become crucial to the health and well-being of senior care residents, staff, and family members.
Here’s a look at how four key technology innovations are improving senior care and how the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting strengths and shortcomings that fly under the radar during normal times.
1: Healthcare Systems that Talk to Each Other
A lot of senior living communities are excellent at delivering care but struggle with managing communications. And it’s no wonder: when you’re juggling multiple communication points for health records, medication administration, and communication (with staff, residents, and family members), it’s hard to keep everyone updated in ways that are both timely and HIPAA compliant.
That can be a pain point in the best of times; during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be dangerous.
High-risk residents may not be adequately isolated from social events, for example, if staff don’t see EHR updates in a timely fashion. Or a family member might miss an email about lockdown and visit a resident’s direct entrance, risking the spread of pathogens.
The good news is that technology that consolidates EHR, eMAR, and messaging into a single platform can streamline communications and eliminate the risks that result from missed messages and mixed signals. And these platforms don’t have to come with a months-long onboarding process; as part of our response to the current pandemic, we launched 280 communities onto our platform in just 10 days.
2: More Efficient Staff-to-Staff Communication
Too often, retirement community staff spend time documenting, reviewing, and tracking down messages from other shifts that they’d rather spend interacting with residents. Digital staff-to-staff communication platforms can eliminate that problem by facilitating communication.
For example, mobile apps can show highlights from a previous shift, including anything unusual or that requires attention. And because such apps are HIPAA-compliant and accessible from mobile devices, staff members can view key information before starting a shift, meaning they can hit the ground running each day – particularly important during crises, when policies and procedures might change from shift to shift.
Another key benefit of digital communication platforms is that they help ensure staff are accessible in case of an emergency, which can help keep everyone in a community healthy and safe. And because this tech makes it possible for messages to be conveyed fast, from anywhere, it helps reduce the total amount of time workers spend on communications and therefore maintain work-life balance.
By Carl Kunkleman, senior vice president and co-founder, ClearDATA.
Working in the world of healthcare security and compliance, I find one of the biggest dangers organizations face is having a false sense of security that their PHI is adequately protected. I’ve done hundreds of security risk assessments, and I have yet to find one single organization that did not have a security gap they were unaware they had in one or more of their administrative, technical or physical safeguards.
Add to this, the complicated current state of healthcare battling COVID-19, and we are likely to see administrative systems that have gaps in off-boarding or off-boarding employees, technical infrastructures that didn’t have time or resources for patch management, and physical scenarios in makeshift triage units with compromised physical safeguards that simply cannot be addressed in the current haste to stop the spread of the virus.
Sadly, this sense of chaos creates the ideal conditions for the hackers of the world looking to infiltrate via phishing, malware and ransomware and more. Once this spread is arrested and we all get a moment to catch our breath and assess business practices, a good move would be to conduct a security risk assessment known as an SRA. Your internal teams and resources are stressed, overworked and possibly burned out and an SRA can identify security gaps that will inevitably arise and present an actionable plan to remediate. This will help reduce risks while protecting your organization’s finances and reputation while we all find out what “getting back to normal” will mean.
Right now, we are all doing everything we can. And the Department of Health and Human Services recognized that with their decision last week to waive penalties for providers that are serving patients through everyday communications technologies during the COVID-19 public health emergency. A security risk assessment this summer will help you put the compliance health of your organization back in order. In addition to the HIPAA requirement that you have an SRA on file annually, it helps unite your team in a strategic path forward by articulating what your highest and lowest risks are, before a hacker uncovers them.
Because an SRA covers administrative, technical and security safeguards, your entire organization will benefit from the process. I continue to find organizations who think their PHI is protected because they have password protected their computers and mobile devices. Our penetration testing has revealed that passwords are relatively easy to defeat. We continue to find gaps in encryption, patch management and even with PHI inventories. If you don’t know where all of your PHI resides, how can you protect it?
Healthcare interoperability and enhanced information sharing continued to improve healthcare quality, safety and cost for U.S. patients and providers, according to the Surescripts 2019 National Progress Report. The nationwide health information network processed 19.15 billion secure transactions in 2019, while connecting 1.78 million healthcare professionals and organizations with actionable patient data for 95% of the U.S. population.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting patients and providers across the globe, a trusted nationwide health information network has never been more critical,” said Tom Skelton, chief executive officer of Surescripts. “In 2019, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others across the Surescripts Network Alliance made remarkable progress transforming interactions with patients and driving significant improvements in care quality, safety and costs.”
In 2019, healthcare professionals saw the benefits of leveraging actionable patient information to enhance the prescribing process with greater automation, improved workflows, and increased price transparency. For example:
In 2019, prescriber enablement for e-prescribing reached 79%, with 1.79 billion e-prescriptions filled, bringing the rate of e-prescribing to 80% of all prescriptions.
The number of e-prescriptions filled for controlled substances reached 134.2 million, representing 38% of controlled substance prescriptions—up 12% from the year prior, with 49% of prescribers enabled for the technology.
The volume of real-time benefit checks at the point of care increased by 336% with more than 250,000 prescribers using the service (a 233% increase).
Electronic prior authorizations increased by 132%, driven by a 58% increase in provider adoption of the tool.
Further, clinicians accessed actionable patient insights to obtain a more complete picture of their patients’ care histories and make more informed care decisions. For example:
Surescripts delivered 2.18 billion medication histories, a 19% increase, while use of Medication History for Populations increased nearly 200%.
Record Locator & Exchange delivered 333.8 million links to clinical document locations and 143.2 million documents listing where patients had previously received care. Nearly 136,000 clinicians used the service—a 28% increase in 2019.
In 2019, more than 648,000 individuals and organizations sent 37.7 million Clinical Direct Messages (a nearly 20% increase from 2018).
In the midst of this significant progress, Surescripts maintained network-wide uptime of approximately 99.999%, maintained HITRUST CSF Certified status for privacy, security and risk management practices, improved the networkwide Quality Index Score for e-prescription accuracy by 10%, and helped migrate most of the network to the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs’ (NCPDP) new e-prescribing standard (SCRIPT Standard Version 2017071).
Current Health announced that it has launched a collaboration with Mayo Clinic to develop remote monitoring solutions that accelerate the identification of COVID-19-positive patients and predict symptom and disease severity in patients, healthcare workers and other at-risk individuals in critical service sectors.
Using digital biomarkers collected by Current Health’s FDA-cleared remote monitoring sensors and platform, experts from Mayo Clinic and Current Health will also be able to expedite identification and assessment of treatment efficacy and improve care for patients with or at risk of COVID-19 infection. Through this collaboration, Current Health and Mayo Clinic aim to improve patient outcomes while preserving and optimizing health system capacity worldwide.
Today, more than 40 hospital systems around the globe use Current Health’s remote patient monitoring platform to monitor and manage patient health. These systems are now increasingly using Current Health to monitor and manage patients infected with COVID-19 at home and in the hospital. The next stage is to use digital biomarkers collected by the Current Health solutions, such as temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation, activity and posture, to develop AI-based algorithms that can detect and predict symptom and disease severity to enable proactive treatment.
This collaboration will leverage Current Health’s existing patient database – which already includes anonymized vital sign data and raw physiological sensor data from hundreds of patients infected with COVID-19 and thousands of uninfected patients – as well as algorithms developed by Mayo Clinic, which will be used to provide individualized care to patients with complex and critical medical conditions. By working together, Current Health and Mayo Clinic hope to scale data analytics, add to Mayo Clinic’s major advancements in accelerating COVID-19 detection and diagnosis, and further efforts to understand and treat this disease.
“Our collective ability to save lives hinges on our ability to understand this virus quickly. COVID-19 has presented in many ways across different people, which has made it very challenging to understand the virus and how it develops,” said Chris McCann, CEO and Co-Founder, Current Health. “By combining our platform with the deep medical and scientific expertise that exists at Mayo Clinic, we seek to explore both known and novel biomarkers, as well as how they manifest in entirely diverse populations. This will be critical to determining how we define, and enable effective treatment of, this disease.”
“Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic is our number one priority,” said Jordan D. Miller, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Surgical Excellence and leads the investigative team at Mayo Clinic.
“Real-world, continuous data – from patients infected and not infected with the disease – is essential to understanding and predicting how the disease presents and evolves,” says Abinash Virk, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Mayo Clinic. “If we are successful in accomplishing our goals, we believe we will improve how patients with COVID-19 are identified, monitored, managed, and ultimately help with their recovery.”
Mayo Clinic will also become an investor in Current Health as part of this collaboration.
Struggling rural hospitals face financial pain amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Revenue has been lost as elective procedures have been canceled since patients can’t safely visit in person for fear of being infected or spreading the disease. As a result, rural communities may lose access to critical care as the pandemic progresses.
Rural residents hurt
The financial and operational pressures on rural healthcare facilities can leave patients who are displaying COVID-19 symptoms or require ongoing care for chronic conditions with limited access to critical care, especially considering many rural residents live more than 30 miles away from the nearest hospital. Plus, rural populations are often more vulnerable to severe to serious outcomes with COVID-19. Compared to urban populations, rural Americans:
Are older: More than 20% of the population in completely rural counties are ages 65+, according to U.S. census data, compared to around 15% in mostly urban centers.
Have higher rates of: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking
Have increased mortality rates from: heart disease, cancer, lower respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries.
Technology must be used to solve the problem
Mobile, Alabama-based healthcare technology company CPSI understands the challenges facing rural hospitals and clinics, so the company is providing a free telehealth portal so doctors can continue to provide quality care.
While telehealth regulations were quickly changed amidst COVID-19, allowing providers to be reimbursed at $220 per remote appointment instead of at $13, telemedicine is not a reality for cash-strapped rural hospitals that:
Lack the technological infrastructure and resources required to implement telemedicine
Require a highly secure, HIPAA-compliant platform (Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams are not secure options)
Need a platform that operates smoothly on low-bandwidth connectivity, common in rural areas
Treat patients who don’t have computers or webcam capabilities
Rural hospitals need an affordable, secure, easy-to-use telehealth platform that can be set up in hours, not months, to give their patients quality care while allowing them to tap into a desperately needed revenue stream that could help them stay afloat. They need CPSI’s turnkey telehealth solution: Talk With Your Doc.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for autonomous healthcare as frontline physicians and medical personnel struggle to handle overloaded hospitals and overflow facilities. It is imperative to keep non-emergent patients out of emergency rooms and simultaneously empower physicians to deliver diagnoses via telemedicine.
Remote diagnostics will be required to care for astronauts in deep space yet it is incredibly relevant to quarantined populations. It assists healthcare providers see all the possible conditions a patient might have. Remote care helps patient get care while still at home.
The VisualDx’s app combines machine learning with clinical data to accurately diagnose a number of medical conditions. The technology has been implemented by tens of thousands of providers and in more than 2,300 hospitals and large clinics globally. In response to emergent needs of the pandemic, the company modified the app to contain the information needed to differentiate between COVID-19, the flu or a common cold.
“Telemedicine is now a requirement if we are to deliver quality care for all patients during this global health crisis,” said Art Papier, VisualDx CEO. “VisualDx is uniquely suited to provide preparedness in critical situations such as COVID-19 and support everyday clinical complaints.”
The VisualDx app requires internet connectivity so TRISH supported transferring the software onto a local computer so it can be used by astronauts on the way to Mars and by healthcare workers in places where internet access is limited.
“Now more than ever, we’re seeing how the research we fund to help our astronauts survive deep space missions has immediate impact for all of us on Earth,” TRISH director Dorit Donoviel, Ph.D. explained. “During deep space missions astronauts will need to rely on technology like VisualDx’s app, to self-diagnosis health issues when access to a physician might not be possible.”
VisualDx has COVID-19 resources available to the public on their website.
With the COVID-19 pandemic unleashing its impact on a global scale, numerous nations are scrambling to adopt various strategies and protocols to mitigate further spread of the virus. One common protocol initiated across more than 25 nations is social distancing.
In a bid to ensure this social distancing, worldwide economies have begun the implementation of partial or complete lockdowns. While this is considered to be a largely helpful endeavor, one challenge arising from these lockdowns is limitations in access to healthcare. This presents a significant conundrum for global populations as the need for healthcare access is becoming increasingly important in the current scenario.
Amid these concerns, however, technology presents a lucrative solution; telemedicine.
Many healthcare facilities and regulatory authorities are rapidly seeking alternative healthcare solutions to offer seamless medical aid whilst mitigating risk of exposure. Telemedicine shows immense potential in this regard, by limiting the need for hospital visits, and implementing more optimized allocations of hospital capacity to integral cases, by offering access to robust healthcare through digital means.
The telemedicine market is also witnessing great support from global regulatory authorities like WHO and CDC in recent times, in an effort to safeguard medical staff and other frontline workers, without influencing the delivery of healthcare services.
The evolution of telemedicine
Telemedicine refers to the use of software and electronic communication devices to deliver clinical services to patients, without the need to make in-person visits to the hospital. Telemedicine technology is used extensively for chronic condition management, medication management, follow-up visits, and a host of such healthcare services, via secure audio and video connections.
While telemedicine has emerged as a prominent entity only in recent years, it has been in existence for several years. The origins of the telemedicine industry can be traced as far back as the 1950s, when certain university medial centers and hospital systems began to experiment with methods to share images and information through the telephone. Two Pennsylvania health centers were among the first to achieve success with this technology, through the transmission of radiologic images via telephone.
Over time, telemedicine technologies began to evolve, and witnessed a significant turn with the rise of the internet. With the emergence of smart devices, designed to facilitate high-quality video transmission, delivery of remote healthcare solutions to patients in their workplaces, homes or assisted living facilities became more prevalent, thus presenting an ideal alternative to in-person clinical visits for both specialized and primary healthcare.
Rising risk of COVID-19 transmission through contact is necessitating the development of effective telemedicine solutions
As concerns arising from the global pandemic continue to surge, telemedicine is beginning to emerge as a lucrative and sustainable preventative and treatment solution to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Virtual care services are helping bridge the gap between the population, health systems, and physicians. These solutions enable everybody, particularly symptomatic patients, to seek medical health from the comfort of their homes and communicate seamlessly with their doctors via digital means, thus reducing the risk of exposure for both medical staff as well as the general population.