Every organization on the planet has been impacted by COVID-19. But arguably healthcare organizations are carrying the heaviest burden. In addition to sending employees home to work remotely, dealing with disrupted supply chains, and experiencing revenue decline, healthcare is on the front lines of keeping people healthy. It’s literally a life-and-death struggle.
But what we’ve seen is great disparity—some healthcare organizations more prepared than others. Those teams already well along on their digital transformation journeys were able to swiftly accelerate their IT plans to cope with the new normal.
During VMworld 2020 (Session OCTO1223), Frank Nydam, vice president of global healthcare alliances and solutions at VMware, spoke to leaders at four organizations working hard to ensure healthcare continuity and scale to deliver exceptional patient care: Interfaith Medical Center, Nebraska Medicine, Charité–Universitatsmedizin, and Angel Medflight.
From Evolution to Revolution
Before the pandemic struck, many healthcare providers had been methodically putting systems and platforms in place and moving to the cloud as part of their digital transformation journeys. But too many of these deployments supported existing ways of doing things.
But now—and suddenly, because of COVID-19—it was time to test these technologies on transforming the patient experience. “The healthcare providers that had the digital foundations in place were able to do this quickly,” says Brian Lancaster, vice president of information technology for Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Nebraska Medicine was one of them. The Omaha-based healthcare provider had early on made significant investments in video desktop infrastructure (VDI) and next-generation virtual networking technology (using VMware Workspace One™ and VMware NSX™). Those investments shaped the way the organization reacted to the global pandemic. “We were in a great position to truly transform the patient journey,” says Lancaster.
A case in point: “We were immediately able to shift and interact virtually with patients who had been admitted to the hospital, reducing the exposure of physicians and staff to the virus, and saving precious PPE [personal protective equipment] at a critical time,” he says.
Study Uncovers Global Healthcare IT Resiliency Trends
During the pandemic, MIT Technology Review fielded a study, commissioned by VMware, to understand the transformation of the healthcare industry due to COVID-19. The speed of the pivots was astonishing: 89% of healthcare organizations got months-long planning cycles down to just weeks. The industry moved from an evolution to a revolution in a matter of a few short months.
However, not all healthcare providers were well equipped to manage the pivot, which puts them at disadvantage when it comes to adapting and innovating for the future.
The reason for this is that the industry is mired in silos. Radiology. The emergency room. The diagnostic system. Patient portal. And of course, traditional legacy apps and new cloud-native apps, each in its own silo. The pandemic exposed this inefficiency. Suddenly, to serve patients in an emergency situation, healthcare providers had to bring these systems together; to connect everything: the data, the people, and the devices.
This is not easy. Healthcare IT complexity is increasing. Five years ago, no one would consider putting patient records in the cloud or otherwise leveraging the cloud for patient care. Yet looking ahead, another survey by Forrester Research in collaboration with VMware, found a doubling in the volume of cloud use by healthcare organizations. Whether the clouds being utilized are private, public or software-as-a-service, it means healthcare organizations can begin to bring these tools together to provide exceptional patient care.
At the Interfaith Medical Center, in New York, the pandemic hit early and hard. “We had to scale really fast, and roll out remote access immediately,” says Christopher Frenz, who was assistant vice president of information security and infrastructure at the time of the outbreak and now serves as the AVP of IT Security at Mount Sinai South Nassau. “Demands for telehealth were immediate. And we had to quickly figure out how to do this in a secure manner so that we weren’t introducing other patient safety risks on top of the patient risk caused by COVID-19.”
How Digital Transformation Is Improving Patient Care
A single, flexible digital foundation for infrastructure and applications that ensures systems, devices, and applications will run on any cloud or on-premises environment gives healthcare organizations a future ready advantage. Organizations that adopt can better withstand whatever disruptions come at them next.
In particular, the right digital infrastructure:
Drives new care models and growth — The way healthcare providers have made money in the past, and the way they interacted with patients, must change. Previously, patients physically came into the office, clinic, or hospital. They paid for individual care services. The more services they needed, the more they paid. Increasingly, they’re paying for outcomes, which involves more of a care continuum. Today, technology allows healthcare providers to bring care to the patient, and to monitor both chronic and acute issues remotely.
“Today, you can give a patient an Apple watch or some kind of wearable and use that as a constant monitoring tool,” says Paul Green, chief development officer at Angel Medflight. “If a patient has a pacemaker or heart issue, the doctor no longer has to wait for him or her to come in to see how they’re doing.”
The practice of bringing data from the patient to the caregiver, wherever either happen to be, bodes well for all kinds of healthcare services, including post-surgical recovery, rehabilitation, and chronic disease management. Providing services like this remotely opens up possibilities for delivering more, and more personal care that promise to yield significant new revenue streams.
Improves patient outcomes — Organizations are now tasked with the delivery of real-time connected care. This means care across any network and any connected device to improve the patient experience through personalized services and something VMware calls “care at the edge.” Again, this involves bringing care to the patient wherever they are.
Not incidentally, the rise in telehealth means that care providers see their patients more often —albeit increasingly virtually—and for all sorts of reasons. Ultimately, this will enhance patient outcomes.
Because “the more often you can see your patients, and interact with them, the better healthcare that patient is going to get,” says Green.
Modern app development also comes into play as part of digital transformation. The ability to respond in an agile way to market conditions with new or modified apps is likely to be a big part of improving the patient experience.
Holger Herzog, head of IT systems and interim CISO at Charité University in Germany, said that right from the start, his hospital assigned researchers to develop a cloud-based mobile app that individuals could use to determine if they had been exposed to COVID-19. “That was developed really quickly and we rolled it out so that anybody worldwide could use it and the information could be transferred to the appropriate electronic health system,” says Herzog.
He adds, “We also have patient-related outcome measures implemented in apps using iPads to help with treatments.”
On the Horizon
Few providers believe the patient experience transformation that healthcare is embracing now is going to end when COVID-19 goes away. Quality of care is top of mind right now, enabling healthcare providers to look to leveraging advanced technologies like virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), or to begin incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) into mainstream patient care activities. Infrastructure itself is becoming much more intelligent, and proactive rather than reactive in meeting the needs of healthcare organizations.
“Technology is going to be a transformative experience for the industry,” says Lancaster, who believes healthcare will return to personalization—where physicians make family visits and at-home visits—so patients can get care when they need it.
“I’m excited for this new model of care,” he says. “I think from COVID you start to see that healthcare providers are no longer technology laggards, we can really drive forward and focus on excellence in patient care.”
For more insight, watch the VMworld 2020 “Ensure Healthcare Continuity and Scale to Deliver Exceptional Patient Care” Breakout Session (OCTO1223).