What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About Healthcare Digitization

November 5, 2020 - 8 minutes read

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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated innovation and progress in many industries, but one of the industries that have historically been lagging behind in digitization is healthcare. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit healthcare hardest, as hospitals and medical staff struggle to keep up with the increasing spread of the virus. It’s imperative that we digitize as much of healthcare as possible now, to reduce the exposure for patients who could conduct their check-up over a video call.

As many healthcare facilities have gone more digital over the past eight months, we’ve seen an uptick in the quality of IT teams, data privacy and security, and consumer-geared options for care. Here are some trends that the healthcare industry is following in its journey to becoming more digitized during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adding the Internet of Things

Implementing an Internet of Things (IoT) application into a healthcare system can automate and alleviate highly-manual tasks like those that require searching through different systems, recording digital results, consolidating electronic medical records, remotely notifying doctors about their patients’ results, and much more.

IoT can free up office employees to focus more deeply on tasks more suited for humans while concurrently reducing the risk of exposure for workers by limiting interactions with patients. For example, IoT can manage contactless check-ins, delivery of test results to patients, and follow-up appointments. Best of all, IoT provides these upgrades without reducing the quality of care.

IoT can bridge the gap between digital measurement tools like blood glucose monitors, bed monitors, pill dispensers, temperature monitors, digital scales, portable EKG monitors, bioimpedance devices (measures water and fluids in a patient’s body), and more, to connect to an overarching, holistic digital system that is secure and available 24/7.

Using this data, doctors can create a “digital twin” of their patients, which carries a virtual profile of the data in the patient’s electronic medical record. The provider can use this profile to track the patient’s health over time with clean, real-time dashboards that visualize trends in an easy-to-understand manner. This is all done without the patient needing to visit the doctor’s office.

Satisfying the Digital Consumer

During the pandemic, people have gone digital; Seattle-based developer and e-commerce giant Amazon is experiencing record-high revenues from the boom in online shopping, and patients expect digital alternatives in all areas of their lives. Because healthcare is a behemoth of an industry, it’s been a lot slower to adapt (even during the pandemic) than retail and other professional services.

Medical applications like telehealth are one option available to a large population of patients. Telehealth, in particular, limits exposure to the virus and is convenient to the patient. Whereas telehealth used to be a supplemental offering by insurance companies, many are now offering it as a primary alternative to in-person medical visits. Federally, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) are encouraging medical professionals to provide their patients with digital health solutions, including remote care.

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There is a major downside to telehealth, however; patients in rural areas, those who are elderly, and those that are disabled face issues when trying to connect with a doctor digitally. Internet speeds, a lack of comfort with technology, and no means to use technology without help make telehealth an unreachable alternative for many patients. On the other hand, patients can access doctors across the country or across the world if they need a niche specialist for their health problem.

Leading by Example in Healthcare

Healthcare leaders have historically snubbed their noses at technology. But if healthcare is to be digitized in a timely manner, leaders must embrace the change and help accelerate it. They must acknowledge that there will be mistakes made and that it will take a lot of investment to reach a seamless digital solution. Although mistakes are inevitable in an industry as complex and far-reaching as healthcare, leaders can work to reduce the impact of failures by ensuring quality control over software, testing it out in smaller batches of patients, and investing in cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity is one of the top three concerns that healthcare leaders will need to address. Hackers are working overtime during the pandemic, and healthcare records contain extremely sensitive information that could affect a patient’s life in a negative way. Another major concern for healthcare leaders is patient privacy; MedTech solutions must make patients feel comfortable, and leaders need to work with software engineers to ensure the software is trustworthy.

medical app developer

The third top concern that healthcare leaders will have to address is cost. Healthcare costs in the U.S. are magnitudes higher than countries with universal healthcare, and the cost of digitizing healthcare cannot fall onto the patient. Leaders must work together with providers, payers, and insurance companies to keep costs reasonable.

These concerns are the main facets that consumers are looking for in healthcare digitization, and they’re the most minimal and basic requirements that digital healthcare applications must meet. Not addressing one of these concerns should not be why a patient must risk their health and life to visit a doctor for basic medical care.

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The main goal of digitizing healthcare is to provide a safer means for patients to stay healthy. Once the pandemic has passed, we hope that the healthcare industry will continue to digitize its services and processes. But for now, we need to rapidly digitize healthcare to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

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