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5 areas healthcare CIOs should focus on during the pandemic

What should CIOs and other IT leaders in healthcare prepare for as they face a pandemic? We've identified five key areas they should be looking out for.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in the state of Washington on January 21, 2020, the U.S. healthcare system has been bracing for what has become one of the most challenging and overwhelming pandemics in recent decades. The large number of patients going into different hospitals has proven to push the infrastructure and staff -- including healthcare CIOs -- to the limit in some parts of the country.

COVID-19 has forced cities across the nation to take social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus. These precautions are helping reduce the contact between healthy and infected patients, and as a result, reducing the volume of patients seeking hospital care. However, despite many of the efforts made by the federal government and local states to slow down the spread of the virus, hospitals all over are receiving infected patients with deteriorating conditions and they are quickly becoming overwhelmed.

While physicians and nurses are doing everything they can to care for the patients in need, healthcare CIOs and other IT leaders are also taking measures to ensure their IT environment and support team are prepared to tackle the potential upcoming surge. This includes making sure that all infrastructure systems are operational and ready for the added volume and stress they are likely to face.

The added workload on the IT infrastructure comes from additional staff members being called in to assist with patients, the added clinical transactions on the EMR, the increase in data consumption, the increase in medical imaging to support chest X-rays and MRIs needed for coronavirus patients and other systems and network traffic.

Here, we've identified five areas healthcare CIOs are monitoring to ensure they are prepared during the pandemic.

The network must be ready for more traffic

With the likelihood of system usage increases due to patient volume and medical imaging data, the overall network will be under tremendous stress. To ensure the network infrastructure can support the increased volume without causing an outage, IT administrators are reviewing the status of their network by performing network health checks to determine if any changes need to be made.

Wireless connectivity is more critical than ever

Hospitals facing a shortage of beds to treat patients are having to build makeshift staging areas by using tents outside their facilities to accommodate for the increased volume of patients across some of the most impacted areas. As a result, some hospitals' wireless networks must be extended and available outside the facility in areas such as parking lots. This expansion of wireless networks may require additional hardware and infrastructure changes in order to support the change.

Maintain the safety of team members supporting the infrastructure

Just as physicians and nurses who are helping patients must take precautions to ensure they are protected from the virus, IT staff must take similar measures to stay healthy in order to be able to support the critical systems in the hospital. A common approach that healthcare CIOs are taking to protect their staff while still continuing to support all critical systems in the hospital is by allowing some of the IT team members to work remotely while still maintaining a subset of those support technicians on site. For the on-site IT staff supporting critical systems, safety training must be provided and all standard measures that clinical staff undergo must be followed as well.

A clear outline on what key collaboration and communications tools are needed

With hospitals providing their nonclinical staff with the option to work from home, healthcare CIOs are now brushing up on their IM and collaboration tools. Many are implementing additional training for their remote employees for applications like Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack or Zoom to ensure they are comfortable utilizing them. Another component CIOs are considering as they prepare for more users to work remotely is the use of a virtual desktop infrastructure to provide remote access to applications such as registration systems, revenue cycle management and other key hospital systems users require.

Critical asset tracking is becoming even more critical

Given that many hospitals are concerned about the shortages around some of the medical equipment including ventilators and respirators needed to support and treat patients infected with the coronavirus, IT must implement asset tracking systems if they don't already have any in use. Tracking the location of the equipment, who is using it and details on its previous maintenance and cleaning are extremely important.

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