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Pandemic crystallizes the need for remote healthcare

COVID-19 will change the way healthcare operates, according to a report from consultancy Frost & Sullivan. But permanent change will require a CIO's deft hands.

Telehealth services have flourished in the current pandemic, but the crisis has shed light on additional remote healthcare technologies that are now critical to patient care.

One such set of remote healthcare technologies is focused on interoperability, which has been a slow process for health organizations. But the pandemic is demonstrating why it's necessary to quickly and easily communicate with other healthcare systems as well as the importance of capabilities such as predictive analytics when it comes to managing a situation like COVID-19, said Sonya Denysenko, global digital health program director for consultancy Frost & Sullivan. CIOs will play a key role in providing the infrastructure for these programs.

Sonya DenysenkoSonya Denysenko

"COVID has helped health systems realize the importance of interoperable EHRs and a strong infrastructure that supports telehealth, advanced analytics and real-time planning, among other areas of importance, during this crisis," Denysenko said.

Impact of COVID-19 on health IT

In an effort to keep patients home as much as possible, federal regulators eased regulations and increased reimbursement for telehealth services during the pandemic, contributing to its increased use. In fact, according to a new report by Frost & Sullivan, the telehealth market could grow by 64% this year.

The increased use of telehealth services is opening the door for remote healthcare, getting providers used to technologies such as virtual rehabilitation, chatbots and other remote patient engagement platforms.

But, according to the Frost & Sullivan report, COVID-19's impact on healthcare will be far broader than an uptick in telehealth services.

Frost & Sullivan predicts there will be heightened interest in teleradiology, which enables an offsite radiologist to analyze medical images. Teleradiology platforms are often deployed in small or rural hospitals with limited radiologists on staff or when healthcare systems need access to a specialist. As normal operations resume and months of delayed procedures and operations are rescheduled, Frost & Sullivan anticipates teleradiology will play a significant role in helping handle the medical imaging caseload following the pandemic.

Healthcare systems will have to rethink how they operate, including how they manage capacity. The pandemic will prompt hospitals to adopt critical care spaces similar to hybrid operating rooms, which bring different technologies into the same space to enable better patient care. Healthcare organizations will also focus on having more flexible capacity, such as having whole isolation floors or doubling the number of available ICU beds if necessary.

Koustav ChatterjeeKoustav Chatterjee

Data analytics will receive increased attention in light of COVID-19, as providers need access to relevant patient data quickly. Indeed, Frost & Sullivan's Koustav Chatterjee, an industry analyst, said interest in applying AI to clinical decision support is up as well as interest in tools predicting hot spots that allow for timely intervention.

"During COVID-19, based on what we have heard from leading companies from all over the world, we found out that the interest in AI solutions that can automate the clinical diagnosis process has been going through the roof and the investment in such solutions has accelerated," he said. 

For healthcare CIOs to enable this kind of care, they will have to focus on infrastructure and interoperability, Denysenko said.

"The real challenge will be to think beyond the internal system requirements and consider systems and services that are interoperable, or could be [used] via APIs," Denysenko said.

Pandemic demonstrates need for interoperability

Interoperability has been an important topic in healthcare for years, and COVID-19 has painted a picture of the critical need for healthcare systems to talk to each other and seamlessly exchange data so patients can get the treatment they need quickly.

The role of a CIO will shift with healthcare systems realizing the potential that digital health holds.
Sonya DenysenkoGlobal digital health program director, Frost & Sullivan

CIOs are on the forefront of making those health systems interoperable. Denysenko said they will need to think holistically about the changes to hospital operations and consider how to incorporate processes and software that work in sync with other hospitals.

"Interoperability has been a topic of conversation for quite a while now for hospital CIOs," Denysenko said. "However, the relatively slow pace of the concept, driven by both regulation and vendor capabilities, has limited fast movement. The role of a CIO will shift with healthcare systems realizing the potential that digital health holds."

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