Four trends healthcare should be thinking about today to provide care tomorrow

By Samuel Hill, Senior Manager, Healthcare, Aruba
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In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare agencies have adjusted to a new standard of normal. The virus spread rapidly, but so did the response from healthcare organizations all over the globe. As we are seeing, many nations are starting to emerge from quarantine, and the focus now turns to enable the future of healthcare delivery. How many of the rapidly adopted ways of working will remain? I see a handful of trends that impact effective community delivery of healthcare, some of which can be influenced by technology – and many that require a broader cultural conversation.

Trend #1: Telehealth is here to stay.

One of the primary impediments to telemedicine visits has been the ability of a health system to bill for the service. Many doctors have been using free tools like FaceTime or others to speak with their patients for quite some time. Still, it was never a service their practice could submit for payment. Now, with guidance that provides a path to revenue for a health system, virtual visits over voice and video with a provider can now become normalized. The experience of receiving care over voice and video has been well received by many patients. It can eliminate many of the traditional hurdles that prevent patients from being seen in person, such as transportation, family care, and scheduling.

A further step is needed to enable the devices that deliver diagnostic information, such as vital signs, or historical tracking of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or others. These devices need to record patient status, which guides clinical care, and must securely deliver this information to the provider. More work is needed to create secure networks that can extend to a patient’s home so that PHI privacy can be maintained.

Trend #2: Distributed staff.

Healthcare also faces social distancing guidelines for workplace-based teams, with new mandates to adjust the office spaces to accommodate and continue to allow people to work remotely. With remote work proving highly effective, healthcare organizations can look at the cost/benefit of real-estate leasing or to convert existing office space into clinical areas. If remote work for non-clinical staff can be diligently adopted, it lessens the reliance upon expensive resources like square footage.

However, considerations need to be made for increased security vulnerabilities, as the attack surface area has grown to include the employee homes. With home workers, the threat extends to their devices in addition to any corporate resources, so policy needs to be applied quickly for enhanced security. In addition to these security concerns, leaders will need to care for the social and emotional well-being of their staff. There are some excellent ways to do this – like increasing the frequency and variety of communication, modeling emotionally intelligent behaviors, and self-care.

Trend #3: Increased prioritization of technology projects.

Let’s face it, many times a network upgrade is considered a “nice to have” and the institutional inertia makes any dramatic changes to a network architecture difficult. Today, with Healthcare facing a massive budget shortfall due to COVID-19, there will not be enough to go around, especially for those “nice to have” projects. Any and every project will face additional scrutiny, with an emphasis placed on projects that solve significant problems or improve the patient experience.

Since not every project will get funded, the health system will need to quickly construct a matrix to evaluate where to allocate their limited resources, according to the specific needs of the system. Now is not the time to hire consultants or contractors, so the IT staff will need to do a lot more with a lot less. Additionally, the status quo will need to be challenged, with complexity phased out for simplicity.

Trend #4: Population health will remain a key concern.

With nearly every single person on earth having been affected in some way by COVID-19, one concerning trend has been the personal choice to delay medical care and treatment for manageable disease processes due to the risk of infection. Health systems will continue to investigate ways to connect their population of patients to the expert care their providers can bring. New methods to reach the community will be tried, and patients will generate more data than ever for the system to evaluate.

By incorporating new data sources into a patient’s medical record, the system can positively affect a care plan by collecting, computing, and delivering. The edge of the network must quickly route real-time data to a computing location and return insight. Instead of building more substantial connections to where the data rests, the computational power should come closer to the edge, where the data is generated.

Healthcare has never faced a challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the initial onslaught of caring for infected patients might be waning, the hard work of adjusting to the new normal is just beginning.