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Telemedicine becomes coronavirus frontline

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | March 16, 2020
Health IT Risk Management
This time hospital IT officers are facing a real-world — not a hacker-induced — viral threat.

As part of dealing with Covid-19, healthcare CIOs are racing to ramp up telemedicine approaches to handle the challenges stemming from the fast growing threat from the epidemic.

“You don’t want to totally overreact, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be falling behind,” Nader Mherabi, CIO at NYU Langone Health in New York, told the Wall Street Journal.

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His institution has alerted IT suppliers already to be ready to boost bandwidth and server capabilities in preparation for a surge of use by workers who can work at home.

“We just don’t know how long this is going to last,” added Mherabi, noting, “you don’t want to spend too much money to buy capacity, but you also want to make sure that you are ready.”

As Covid-19 cases continue to spiral up nationwide, IT professionals are focusing on helping to increase caregiving capacity with novel approaches — including telemedicine.

“CIOs at health systems are thinking about, 'How do I extend my care team that’s already strained in terms of resources, and mitigate some of the risks of their exposure,’” Arielle Trzcinski, senior analyst at Forrester Research, told the paper.

For example, St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania is now trying out videoconferencing to help treat older patients — a group less likely to use apps and more comfortable with such desktop or laptop oriented tech.

“We are maximizing our patient protection and our provider protection in managing these patients. However, we are also recognizing the unique nature of Covid-19 and how we have to deal with that in a little different way,” James Balshi, St. Luke's CIO, told the paper.

And to address the challenges of making data accessible to healthcare workers who may themselves be virtual, Mount Sinai Health System in New York has developed “a digital repository”, with a dashboard just for Covid-19 that lets providers see data they need, like X-rays and lab tests.

The difficulty the virus creates for IT healthcare professionals was highlighted with the recent cancellation of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual meeting, which had been slated to start March 8 at the Orange County Convention Center, West Concourse, Florida.

The decision comes just a few days after the news broke that President Donald Trump had been added on as a last-minute speaker at the event.

“We recognize all the hard work that so many have put into preparing for their presentations and panels that accompany every HIMSS conference,” said Hal Wolf, president and CEO of HIMSS, in a statement. “Based on evaluation of evolving circumstances and coordination with an external advisory panel of medical professionals to support evidence-based decision-making, it is clear that it would be an unacceptable risk to bring so many thousands of people together.”

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