Role of Technology in Helping the Healthcare System Fight the Pandemic

By Dr. Muthu Krishnan, Chief Digital Transformation officer, IKS Health

While organisations have been talking about healthcare disruption for years, the disruption we have faced as an industry in 2020 is unlike anything we could have ever predicted. And yet, while amid this period of extreme disruption in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what if we used this as an opportunity to stabilize both for the immediacy of the current crisis as well as to address the key challenges of revenue capture, provider efficiency and productivity, and scalability? Stressing the very pain points that have caused the healthcare industry to struggle over the last many years, the pandemic and the subsequent waves or economic challenges will further strain healthcare if businesses attempt to operate as usual. However, what if we are able to use this as an opportunity to create lean, highly productive organisations that are able to prioritize high quality care and exceptional outcomes.

To arrive there, organisations should be asking themselves a series of key questions including, how can we take the forced disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic and use this as an opportunity to create structure, scalability and high performance now? In what ways do we use the technological infrastructure of an organization to create stability? How does IT leadership create, drive and also support the strategic direction of the organization and seize the opportunities that remain to be captured? Within healthcare, the margin for error is zero. A sentiment that is true for the physician as well as, or even more so, for our technology systems. The challenges we have faced this year accentuate our need to create a technological approach that frees physicians from mundane documentation tasks and leaves only the critical, clinical tasks of patient care before them. Looking at technology as vital to a practice as any other clinical tool, it is possible that when done right we can free clinicians from the documentation and administrative burden and also ensure better safer care at scale for the health of the organization, the physician and the patient alike.

Evaluate Administrative Cost Functions for Variability

As we look at a likely wave two of the pandemic, an economic downturn, organisations will be faced with addressing administrative costs. Even in years past, the administrative cost systems were identified as unsustainable. As the volumes of patient visits shift, it will no longer be viable to retain the staff, building, utility and technology expenses for the peak times while one faces lean times. Rather, organisations that have identified a partner or areas where they can implement a variablized solution to scale down or up on-demand will be better positioned to weather the storm. Meanwhile retaining the core functions that must remain in the clinic will provide a better patient experience, positive outcomes, and employee engagement.

Build Systems for Long Term Telemedicine Success

Times of crisis tend to drive strategic innovation. We suspect that the rapid adoption of telemedicine by both organisations and patients will mark a turn in its permanence as a healthcare tool. From this point forward, investing in technology for telemedicine is as strategic as investing to keep your practice technology current. Healthcare organisations that quickly are able to ensure that patients get access to their own doctors, have long term chronic care needs addressed, and are looped into specialty care, will be better positioned as patient choice grows. The availability of tools like the virtual clinical scribe models not only alleviate the clinical burden but may offer financial upsides as well with  better capturing of the patient visit.  This time can be used to determine the telemedicine strategy and the technological needs to support it to better prepare the organization for the high-demand on these systems predicted in the future.

Assess your opportunities and appetite to scale then align your technology strategy accordingly

Cash preservation is critical for all especially for groups that have an interest in acquisition as opportunities will be plentiful in the months ahead. We are also seeing that private equity remains interested in finding cost efficiencies in healthcare particularly as more information comes to light about the staggering costs of administrative overhead. As organisations identify their own appetite for growth and the opportunities before them in lock step should be key conversations and considerations related to technological infrastructure. Organisations should look at their technology investment and determine how much of that is unique to them and how much of it is a “commodity” which is better off outsourced so they can get the best-of-breed solutions, best practices, ensure regulatory compliance and the ability to scale their practice’s technology with their growth. Healthcare organisations are already leaders in centralizing expensive healthcare equipment costs.

Identify a Key Partner for Connectivity, Security, and Interoperability 

As organisations look to grow, the demand when bringing new physicians into the network merely from a technological standpoint only increases. Technology work that has the possibility of being completed anywhere can not only reduce the hard cost but avail your organization to the highest quality and round the clock coverage. Considering everything from maintaining backups, managing upgrades, setting up new doctors and new providers, any of these tasks can be done from afar and aggregated at scale, allowing you to focus on the core tasks of clinical care and physical infrastructure support.

A strategy for a scalable administrative infrastructure is a strategy that has enabled organisations to thrive in good times. Organisations set on this model while still facing challenges due to Covid, will more easily resume their stride and financial footing in the months ahead. Disruption has arrived on our doorstep, and as we are clearing the way forward, we have the opportunities to make the call and build the foundation for a stronger road ahead. Perhaps, this is the moment we have been waiting for in terms of building a more efficient and proficient healthcare technological infrastructure.

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