A wise man once said, “Adversity does not build character; it reveals it.”
This adage has proven true of healthcare professionals collectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions have done yeoman’s work caring for the sick and (sadly, and too frequently) the dying. Their skill, empathy, and dedication has been on display for all to see, and has been praised widely.
You could also say adversity reveals the “character” of organizations, in the form of their inherent strengths and weaknesses. That certainly has proven true of hospitals during COVID-19. Acute care facilities, especially those in the most hard-hit communities, rapidly adjusted their services, staffing and infrastructure to address the COVID-19 patient surge as best they could. From repurposing clinical and non-clinical spaces, to expanding care to tents in the parking lot, all made changes to their operations.
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Five months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is proving to be an accelerator of digital transformation in healthcare. The digitization of healthcare, broadly defined, is not a new trend; it has been ongoing for decades, and received a significant financial jolt in 2009 with the passage of the HITECH Act. But in the first half of 2020 – as telehealth has become the norm for much outpatient care, population health issues are in the national news daily, and public health officials are the new rock stars – it is clear that health systems must hit the gas on certain mission-critical IT initiatives.
From a hospital IT perspective, perhaps the most glaring functional gap revealed by the pandemic relates to care team members’ inability to access patient records and each other at a moment’s notice, anytime, anywhere.
To that end, nothing could be more practical or timely amidst the COVID-19 surge than enabling patient data access and care team collaboration capabilities on mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets are the information access and communication tools of choice for most clinicians, wherever they may be – within the hospital, in a triage tent, quarantined at home, or anywhere in between. (Surely using secure mobile devices makes more sense than installing a dozen hard-wired terminals in a temporary facility in the hospital parking lot!)
But for hospitals under the gun in the midst of this pandemic, is implementing such mobile functionality really feasible?
In fact it’s a fairly light lift, especially when compared to the move from paper to electronic patient records – think of those systems as “EHR 1.0” – that many hospitals undertook 10 years ago. That transition required a massive cultural shift for physicians; and yet in some ways it accomplished fairly little.