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Will COVID-19 change healthcare services forever? The technology behind a better future for healthcare

The once-in-a-lifetime impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn a superhuman response from healthcare services across the globe.

From nurses to receptionists; doctors to the IT department, everyone has pulled together to keep the healthcare industry functioning in the face of unprecedented pressure.

The speed at which new protocols – and even entirely new hospitals – have been established is nothing short of phenomenal. But how does the healthcare industry move forward from here?

 

There is an urgent need not only to attract, train and retain more healthcare professionals, but also to ensure that their time is used where it adds most value – caring for patients.


European Institute of Technology Health


 

One of the big impacts of COVID-19 is the change in how our healthcare services engage with people. For the safety of staff and patients, many clinics and surgeries have reduced face-to-face interaction, with waiting rooms replaced by online or telephone appointments.

Given that the introduction of remote services has eased the pressure on clinical staff, it would make sense to factor in these options when considering how the provision of healthcare looks when we return to normal.

Certainly COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation in healthcare - and many who were once sceptical of digitisation saw first-hand the benefits it offers to patients and practitioners.

 

How ways of working have been transformed

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a shift to working from home for many in the healthcare industry, making a reliance on paper records particularly difficult. But with many of the digital solutions to these challenges already available – such as document scanning and the creation of electronic records - workflow has been able to continue without disruption.

Healthcare providers with strong, established systems for handling data and documents will be better placed to adapt. Specifically those systems where consultants can pull up patient records on their screens, share information quickly and discuss treatments with their wider teams instantly via video calls.

Committing to the digitisation of patient information means less time struggling with multiple systems or waiting for paperwork and more time spent face-to-face with patients. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Activities that currently occupy up to 80% of clinical staff’s time can be streamlined or even eliminated through the use of technology.1

This is backed up by data from a 2020 report from the European Institute of Technology and McKinsey which states that technology could not only reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, but also alleviate workforce shortages and accelerate the research and development of life-saving treatments.

The long-term view of change

During the pandemic, the short-term reactive adoption of technology happened alongside longer-term shifts in healthcare process that were already in motion. As far back as the very beginning of the pandemic, 77% of EU clinicians said that their organisation was already 'reasonably well prepared' or 'very well prepared' for the adoption of digital technologies.2

In the light of this accelerated digital evolution, 74.7% of general practice doctors, 60.2% of secondary care doctors and 56.8% of nurses in the EU say that COVID-19 increased the adoption of digital technologies to transform the way they work.2

During the pandemic it has been clear that the work IT departments have done to modernise and strengthen healthcare technology has paid off. Under incredible pressure, most have coped brilliantly, creating scope for greater collaboration between different doctors, disciplines and even countries.

Cristian Bușoi, both a Romanian doctor and member of the European Parliament (MEP), recognised this push towards greater collaboration when he said: “I’m sure that this cooperation, this dialogue, this solidarity will continue. Maybe, when we are not in a crisis, it will be difficult to have the same level of engagement, but the determination will be there, everybody understood that we could do more at the EU level.”3

 

The challenge of the pandemic has undoubtedly helped accelerate growth.  Stakeholders have fought to deliver care both rapidly and remotely. However, this momentum needs to be maintained to ensure that benefits to healthcare systems are embedded long-term and help them to prepare for the future – something which will benefit all of us.

Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO European Institute of Technology Health


Avoiding exclusion

Despite all this promise, it’s important to remember that the digital transformation in healthcare isn’t just about data or workflow: it’s about people. But we must proceed with caution.

Switching to 100% digital provision of healthcare services may exclude the very people most in need. Digital access remains a problem  for older, poorer and less able sectors of society. Research tells us that 80 million Europeans never use internet, either because they don't have a computer or it is too expensive - and 28.9% of Europeans lack basic digital skills, increasing the risk of exclusion from healthcare.2

Bear in mind too that, human nature plays a part. While the technology exists for many, some patients may not yet be comfortable with the idea of video consultations. Especially in an era where privacy and security are never far from the agenda.

 

"While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted healthcare and caused radical shifts in delivery models, it has also accelerated the pace of digitalisation by at least a decade. This digital transformation will be pivotal in shaping the future of healthcare."

Deloitte: Digital Transformation

Shaping a new IT landscape in healthcare

The true impact of COVID-19 may not be revealed for many years. However, if the sector is to build on the progress that’s been made over the last few months it must maintain the momentum. While many providers of healthcare services have shown how digitisation and the right IT infrastructure can benefit patients and relieve pressure on the front line, it’s important to remember just how quickly this transformation took place.

Ordinarily, the healthcare industry is notorious for its bureaucracy and slow pace of change, but this pandemic has shown it is capable of rapid adjustment when the imperative to change is clear and present. Now, it’s crucial to learn from these experiences and adapt them into the new post-pandemic landscape.

A legacy of the pandemic is likely to be new relationship paradigms based on collaboration, ‘goodwill’ and heightened levels of trust. Attitudes to care have changed and boundaries that have been in place for a long time have been removed.

Deloitte: Digital Transformation


IT departments will have a pivotal role here. Many will already have gained experience in implementing healthcare technology, whether that’s through better scanning and document sharing or enhanced remote working. The challenge will be to ensure this can happen on a macro scale.

While events have been catastrophic, they have highlighted two key characteristics of healthcare services in Europe: resilience and innovation.

It’s an exciting opportunity: one in which IT leaders can play a role in transforming workflow, collaboration and the patient experience of healthcare across Europe.

Brother has a long-standing history and wide-ranging experience providing technology solutions to the healthcare industry. From pharmacies and GP surgeries to hospitals and clinics, our products and solutions help to make staff’s day-to-day jobs easier.

For more information, take a look at one of our healthcare solutions or get in touch with our specialist team today.


Sources:

1. sciencebusiness.net: “EIT Health urges European healthcare providers to embrace AI and technology after the pandemic highlights fragility of healthcare systems” – April 2021

2. Deloitte: "Digital transformation: Shaping the future of European healthcare September 2020"

3. sciencebusiness.net: “ Pandemic could prompt healthcare overhaul” - 18 May 2021


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