The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many industries to modify their practices. However, few have been affected as much as the healthcare sector. Inundated with innumerable patients, crippled by a shortage of crucial medical equipment, and struggling to protect a workforce that’s dangerously exposed to the novel disease, the healthcare sector has been plagued with problems since the beginning of 2020. The pandemic has revealed a pressing need for reform in many areas of healthcare systems around the globe. The good news is that the industry has taken cognizance of this need and appears well on its way to adapt to today’s demands. Many healthcare institutions have turned to technology to fill the gaps and see them through this pandemic.
Many are of the firm belief that the future of healthcare lies in technological advancements and that the pandemic will forever change the face of healthcare technology. From patient-facing tools and community health apps to data analytics solutions, healthcare CTOs have been increasingly investing in digital technologies despite the strain COVID-19 has put on IT budgets. The reason embracing technology can be a game changer for healthcare organizations is that software solutions can be deployed easily, scaled and customized according to organizational requirements, and directly contribute to both staff and patient satisfaction.
The power of data
Data has become ubiquitous; with every interaction, be it physical or digital, we leave some trace of data out there in the world. Be it patient data or data from various medical devices, the healthcare industry is teeming with information that can be put to good use. Leveraging data collection in the healthcare ecosystem can create comprehensive medical histories of patients, advance healthcare treatment plans, enhance doctor-patient communication, and much more. Data has the power to significantly reduce doctor workload by readily providing digital reports to patients and analyzing available patient data to forecast the prognosis and suggest future course of action.
If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of accurate data analysis and how it can be used to combat unprecedented circumstances. Many countries that are floundering today in the face of the pandemic wouldn’t have had it so bad if they had accurately tracked the spread of the infection, prepared their healthcare systems, allocated separate treatment facilities for those infected, set up the required contactless systems of interaction, and ensured adequate provision of supplies. That is the value that data brings to the table.
Hospitals can easily manage the multitude of data generated every day by implementing a central data management system that can store, analyze, and visually represent the most crucial insights collected.
Adapting to AI
A natural progression when trying to make the most of healthcare data is to implement artificial intelligence (AI) systems to analyze the data that’s been collected. The adoption of AI and machine learning (ML) technologies has increased manifold during the COVID-19 crisis. While the healthcare sector has historically been known to be conservative when it comes to implementing new technologies, AI’s algorithmic modeling capabilities seem set to change the course of the medical industry. Such is the interest in AI-based solutions that according to a recent study conducted by ABI Research, global R&D spending for AI in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries is expected to increase from $463 million in 2019 to more than $2 billion by 2025.
Hospitals and medical research centers have started tapping AI’s tremendous capability to run millions of simulations and understand trends and patterns so these organizations can conduct epidemiological research that might shed light on why diseases happen and how they progress. Healthcare professionals can utilize AI to predict contagion rates, forecast the need for medical supplies, schedule medical staff’s shifts, and even provide diagnostic insights. In fact, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba recently built an AI system for diagnosing COVID-19 that can detect the virus in seconds with 96 percent accuracy.
Now, the strength of an AI model certainly rests on the quality of data it is built on. But as we discussed earlier, if hospitals get serious about implementing a centralized data management system, AI- and ML-based algorithms can easily mine this data to generate meaningful insights. With potential applications in almost every aspect of medical care, from pathology and radiology diagnostics to AI-enabled clinical trials and drug safety analysis, the possibilities of AI in healthcare are truly endless.
Mobility and collaboration tools lead the way
Seemingly overnight, telehealth has transformed the way hospitals and clinics approach medical care. Healthcare organizations are looking to invest heavily in mobile solutions, virtual platforms, health wearables, etc., as these not only improve the end-user experience but can also greatly improve quality of care, cut costs, and enhance operational efficiency.
The pandemic has introduced the need to provide around-the-clock care for patients without unnecessarily exposing them or healthcare staff to coronavirus. Telehealth applications have enabled doctors and nurses to achieve this. Video conferencing tools and telemetry have allowed us to consult doctors remotely and reduced the rate of hospitalization, thereby freeing up time and space for those in need of immediate care.
Imagine software installed on a portable device that can obtain patient data, track their prescribed care schedule, and generate alerts when something requires attention, as well as be used for internal communication. Such mobile solutions can revolutionize patient care. Doctors could focus on the truly important aspects of diagnosis, and nurses would not have to keep running between rooms and their stations for every minor thing.
Throw wearables into the mix and you have a potent combination. These portable, WiFi-enabled devices can monitor, store, and transmit health-related data such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and sleep quality. This kind of medical data can help hospitals perform in-depth analysis of a patient’s health and chart out highly targeted treatment plans. In addition to improving patient care, wearables also make patients an active participant in the healthcare process, as they enable patients to track the health effects of their lifestyle and behaviors in real time. This has also given rise to a movement known as Quantified Self that takes into account technologies such as sensors and wearables to gather different aspects of an end user’s health and fitness data.
The scale at which telemedicine, remote work, and other technologies are growing is unprecedented. To support and sustain this rapid growth, hospitals will need to equip themselves with the appropriate IT infrastructure. For some that might mean moving beyond legacy systems, while others may have to invest in additional mobile devices and workstations. However, the good news is that most organizations in the sector appear ready to shed their image as laggards and are actively developing a long-term IT roadmap oriented towards delivering cutting-edge, top-notch patient care.