The COVID-19 pandemic presented the healthcare systems across the globe with massive, unprecedented challenges. Between the influx of patients severely ill with a novel disease and the demands for social distancing and disease mitigation, hospitals and clinics had to adapt and adapt quickly. Healthcare facilities had to rapidly develop new methods of seeing patients remotely, processing them efficiently, and even performing exams from a distance, all of which required massive expenditures in new tech like medical computers. What before would have taken ages to approve was implemented in days, and consequently, healthcare as we know it will never be the same. 

All of this begs the question: How have Healthcare IT teams dealt with these challenges? What IT lessons have people in the healthcare field learned as a result of the pandemic?

Cutting Red Tape

Healthcare, as a field, is known for being reluctant to adopt new technology that is standard in other industries. Many of the biggest obstacles faced by hospital IT teams, especially when trying to upgrade to a clinic or facility’s technology, come from bureaucracy. 

According to Richard Temple, Chief Information officer for Deborah Heart and Lung Center, “In a more normal circumstance, scaling up initiatives of this magnitude would require a mountain of paperwork, endless committee huddles, an established budgetary funding source, and many different sign-offs on the road to fruition.” Even in facilities with great enthusiasm for technology, it can still take months or years for the project to be completed as it winds its way through the hospital’s byzantine bureaucracy. 

COVID-19 has effectively burned through a lot of this red tape. Before the pandemic, it was easy to table things like remote patient monitoring and telehealth for a later date. After all, holding up new telehealth software in a committee for months wouldn’t have had any detrimental effect on the day-to-day operations of most healthcare facilities. But in a pandemic where face-to-face interaction is to be avoided at all costs, bureaucratic delays put people’s lives in danger. 

As noted by Matt Kull of the Clevland Clinic, “By cutting down on bureaucracy…we made incredible strides in mere weeks, on projects that would normally take months, if not years…We look forward to continuing these governance updates beyond the pandemic.” Now that people have seen how quickly the field can adopt new technologies and workflows, they know what is possible. Delaying necessary upgrades because multiple committees are holding up approval just won’t be tolerated anymore.

Invest Now, Save Later

Beyond bureaucracy, hospitals, in general, try to be budget-conscious when upgrading their facilities. New technology entails many costs: the upfront cost of purchasing the latest tech, the time required to implement it into your existing systems, the time needed to train staff, etc. All of this means that otherwise top-notch facilities can be limping along with hardware and software that is years out of date.

However, a crisis can help the penny pinchers in accounting see the value in reprioritizing the budget and investing in information technology. Before the pandemic, a purchasing manager would not have seen the value of upgrading from cheap off-the-shelf thin client computers. The sudden spread of a novel virus with severe symptoms can change the calculation. 

Suddenly, it becomes worth spending the extra money upfront on a fleet of antimicrobial medical tablets. When dealing with a deadly pathogen that spreads through the air, the fanless cooling systems that come standard on medical computers seem less like a luxury than an absolute necessity.

Of course, beyond the immediate benefits of preventing the spread of COVID-19, these upfront investments in new tech save clinics money in the long term. Whereas consumer-grade computers have a failure rate of 15-30% in healthcare settings, fit-for-purpose medical grade computers and tablets have failure rates of less than 2%. 

Further, medical computers and tablets have much longer product lifecycles than consumer-grade models. They not only last longer, but they also stay on the market longer. Should you run into issues down the road, they are much easier to repair or replace without creating headaches for your entire system. 

Depending on the size of the healthcare facility in question, this can translate to tens of thousands of dollars in savings over time, which doesn’t even account for savings created by reducing the cost of treating hospital-acquired infections. These kinds of long-term savings are highly appealing to any budget-conscious facility, whether or not there is a pandemic.

Patients Expect More from Telehealth and Remote Care

We hear a lot about COVID-19 creating a “new normal.” The thing about new normals is that they quickly cease to be new and just become normal. What was once novel becomes commonplace and ordinary. We’ve seen this phenomenon play out with the rapid adoption of Telehealth technology during the pandemic. 

Before the pandemic, less than a quarter of physicians reported using telehealth services in some capacity to communicate with their patients. Meanwhile, according to one 2015 study, 75% of patients said they would either not trust a virtual diagnosis or trust it less than a diagnosis made in person. However, in the wake of the pandemic, people’s attitudes towards telehealth and remote care services have gone from skepticism to confidence.

Now, not only do 80% of physicians report using telehealth services, but according to a British Journal of General Practice study, 84% of patients who had at least one telehealth conference while recovering from COVID-19 reported being satisfied with their experience. This represents a massive sea change, not only in the way healthcare is administered but how people expect it to be administered. 

New experiences breed new expectations. Once you’ve had a check-up via video chat, gotten answers about your symptoms via SMS, or had a technician show up at your house with a medical tablet and a Bluetooth-enabled heart monitor, suddenly a doctor whose website just lists their phone number and address is less appealing. Patients now know what is possible with technology, and healthcare providers need to react accordingly. 

Data Security

All of this newly adopted digital technology generates tons of data, which leaves Healthcare IT professionals with two difficulties: how to secure the data and how to utilize it. Beyond the laws protecting patient privacy like HIPAA, people want to know that their medical information is secure. They want to know that no one uses the network connection fostered by telehealth technology to listen in on their virtual consultations or gain access to their health records.

Alongside basics like firewalls to secure a facility or provider’s internet connection, medical computers and tablets offer additional features to ensure the privacy of patient’s Electronic Medical Records. RFID and Biometric scanning technology, combined with Imprivata single sign-on certification, mean that only authorized personnel can access patients’ health records. Finally, beyond digital security, optional embedded privacy filters make it so no one can look in on video chats with patients. 

Final Thoughts

As vaccination efforts ramp up and we enter the post-pandemic world, it is vital that healthcare administrators and healthcare IT teams work with doctors, nurses, and other staff to find the best tech platform for their operations and workflows. No longer can budgetary or bureaucratic concerns stand in the way of adopting new technology in the healthcare field. If you are interested in finding out how you can stay on the cutting edge of post-covid healthcare technology, contact one of the experts at Cybernet today!