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February 19, 2021 Friday 01:58:48 PM IST

Covid Redefined Healthcare

Health Monitor

The speed and intensity of Covid pandemic has challenged us to reflect on what the hospital of the future will look like. We’ve realized that it has accelerated three profound trends that existed before the pandemic which is dramatically reshaping healthcare. These trends are the concept of a networked healthcare system, the acceleration of tele-health and virtual care and guidance, and the increase in consumer engagement in our own health and that of our families. 

This is an attempt to explore how hospitals will innovate in the coming decade--and what it will mean for both patients and healthcare professionals. Imagining the hospital of the future may be an exercise in idealism for many of us, but specialists around the world are currently at work redesigning and improving many different components of the modern hospital, from changing how medical professionals work together to introducing new technologies.

Networked  System

An increasing number of today’s patients want healthcare services to be delivered with greater efficiency and in convenient, comfortable, near-normal settings.  As a result, the whole paradigm of care delivery is changing, and the changes will likely accelerate in the years ahead. It is against this backdrop that hospitals, traditionally the center of healthcare delivery systems, are seeking--or being forced--to redefine themselves. 


Health systems that are going to succeed are those that can provide coordinated care throughout the continuum of care, and this will come from several avenues. ACOs, primary health centers, outpatient facilities, home health agencies, telemedicine sites, and other strategies that reach patients closer to home are musts. In many parts of the world, whole cities are being redesigned with ‘smart’ features that take full advantage of new technologies. Typically, these cities include future-ready smart hospitals. These hospitals embed new technologies into their design and operations to improve the customer experience, as well as outcomes and costs. The technologies are used not only to improve care delivery within a smart hospital itself but also to connect the hospital to a wider healthcare delivery ecosystem, one in which hospitals play an important but less central role. In some cases, smart hospitals are being created in less technologically advanced cities, surpassing the general rate of infrastructure development there.

The Features

Most hospitals, however, are only beginning to take advantage of the technologies and must find ways to incorporate them into care delivery if they are to meet the challenges ahead. Although it's not easy to discern how all of today's reform efforts will play out, experts involved with the healthcare industry still have some predictions concerning what hospital care will look like two decades from now. Health care experts suggest focusing on the following features: (Morris, Empson, Wellikson, 2005)

-An interconnected ecosystem that includes health agencies, government platforms, payers, and other providers. Future hospitals should be digitally connected to make it possible for patients to receive high-quality care quickly, conveniently, and globally. Safe and seamless data sharing is crucial, so shifting online give particular attention to healthcare cyber security and compliance with domestic and international regulations.


-Automated procedures and services to boost the overall accuracy and efficiency of hospital care.  Experience has shown that over 80 percent of back-office operations (laundry, food delivery, pharmacy, and others) can be automated. Such an approach allows caregivers to dedicate more time to patients and make improvements in other aspects of clinical care.

-Patient-centricity. In fact, all the advances in healthcare technology, shaping the future of medical care, are introduced to improve patient experience during, after, and even before their hospital stay. Here we’re talking about wearable health devices, telemedicine services, cloud-accessible results and health records, medication reminders, and so much more.

-Structured and accessible clinical data to improve treatment quality and boost workforce efficiency in healthcare. Big data analytics proves successful in early risk identification, collection and analysis of statistical data, and design of health management plans for the population.

-Diverse and open teams of innovators. Rethinking and future-proofing healthcare systems will rely on the efforts and imaginations of many. It’s not a typical IT project since it requires the involvement and dedication of all the staff, starting from nurses and physicians to accountants and executives. In this way, hospitals may be sure that existing or potential problems are instantly detected, and solutions are quickly built, tested, and rolled out.


Tele-health

Every crisis makes way for new opportunities. Tele-health services aren’t new, and they’ve been around for several years now. However, they didn’t earn enough support from healthcare providers and patients, until now. But let’s start with the basics. What is tele-health? -- Tele-health is the provision of health-related services using telecom technologies. It enables remote advice, care, education, monitoring, and treatment assessment. Consequently, when doctors had to stop seeing their patients due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they all had to go online, and so tele-health solutions received a massive boost in popularity. Telemedicine services will become even more important later on. They prove their worth in medication management or follow-up visits when physicians have long-lasting relationships with their patients and know their health conditions. This is particularly true for rural communities and far-flung regions. However, telehealth platforms don’t fully eliminate doctor appointments, as many examinations and procedures still should be done in person. There's a recognition that we need to take care of people not just when they're acutely ill but before they become ill. Tele-health services come in handy for this purpose. Moving forward, medical technology will keep advancing in the direction of tools becoming smaller and more mobile, allowing for their use in the home setting. And hospital executives should be planning how to integrate technology into newly-built facilities and retrofit it into older ones. After all, innovation isn’t an option -- it is a necessity.

Virtual Care and Guidance     

The rise of wearable technology in healthcare promotes patient-centricity and brings wellbeing into the focus of people’s conscious thinking. And what does it mean to the future of the healthcare industry? — Unfortunately, the global healthcare system still relies heavily on manual processes, obsolete technologies, and in-person interactions. Consequently, it may require time and significant effort for industry leaders to get up to speed with the rapid pace of innovation. However, finding a reliable IT partner and creating a connected ecosystem for healthcare trackers, wearables and sensors, virtual care providers will enhance the individual clinical experience and give patients a more proactive and responsible role in their self-care.


AI and Automation

Even though younger medical personnel are tech-savvy, about one-third don't know how to utilize digital patient data to inform patient care. Additionally, the amount of information they encounter in day-to-day practice can be overwhelming. All of these factors lead to stress, demotivation, and poor service quality. Consequently, ensuring better staff experiences become a top-of-mind priority for healthcare providers. In the coming decade, the adoption of robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence in healthcare will become a part of the ‘new norm.’ Routine, rule-based tasks like referrals, check-ins, prescription filling, or charting will be performed by automated healthcare solutions.

Meanwhile, AI technology will make it possible to detect and diagnose diseases faster and more accurately. Finally, machine learning can be applied to examine treatment patterns, recognize similar cases for further research, and assist with managing chronic diseases. Such an approach will potentially relieve the pressure on the medical staff and help to mitigate the potential shortage of qualified medical personnel. No wonder the global healthcare AI market size is projected to reach $31.3 billion by 2025.

Technological enablement, digitization, and automation are affecting industries today in profound ways. Healthcare delivery is no exception. On the supply side, a host of new technologies can now be integrated into care delivery: artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, precision medicine, 3-D printing, augmented reality/virtual reality, genomics, telemedicine, and more. Adoption of these technologies is being driven by both immediate needs (e.g., cost control and efficiency optimization) and longer-term goals (especially greater precision, fewer errors, and a better outcome.


Smart Hospitals

The Covid pandemic has unveiled not only vulnerabilities and transformative opportunities, but also our resourcefulness and empathy. We’re well on the way to a future-proof and resilient healthcare system, and this transformation will continue for months and years after the crisis. The above-described future trends in healthcare technology and approaches to upskilling offer industry leaders a path to start navigating to the next normal and catch up with the new reality.

In summary, the smart hospitals of the future will look very different from the hospitals of today and the past. Smart hospitals will operate in an environment of decentralized care provision and will no longer serve as the predominant (or in some countries, sole) provider of all healthcare interventions. Smart hospitals will focus instead on a core set of in-house services and connect with a broader ecosystem for delivery of other care services in an agile and efficient manner. In smart hospitals, digitally-enabled clinical staff will be able to deliver better outcomes and a more integrated patient experience, and continuously innovate in care delivery.



Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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