Photo: Al David Sacks/Getty Images
Lost revenue, slim margins and a need for greater efficiency: These are some of the fallouts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the healthcare industry. It has created challenges, but also opportunity, especially in the use of technology to drive efficiencies and allow clinicians to deliver better care.
Ryan Hodgin, chief technology officer for IBM Global Healthcare, and Kate Huey, partner at IBM Healthcare, spoke about some of these technological innovations in their digital HIMSS21 session, “Innovation Driven Resiliency: Redefining What’s Possible.”
The technology in question can encompass telehealth, artificial intelligence, automation, blockchain, chatbots, apps and other elements that have become mainstays of healthcare during the course of the pandemic.
“The COVID pandemic really brought us to the brink, and we were trying to get to digital transformation very quickly,” said Huey. “It exposed gaps and holes in the system, as well as inequalities in our system, and it really did spark innovation.”
In a way, she said, science fiction is becoming science fact: Technologies that were once in the experimental phase are now coming to life and driving innovation, particularly quantum computing. The power of quantum computing has the potential to transform healthcare just by sheer force of its impressive computational power.
One of the big factors accelerating technological innovation is the healthcare workforce, which has been placed under enormous stress over the past 18 months, with many doctors and clinicians reporting burnout or feelings of being overwhelmed. These technologies promise to reduce the burden being felt by providers.
Importantly, they also promise to more actively engage healthcare consumers, who increasingly expect healthcare to be as user-friendly and experience driven as their favorite apps or online shopping portals.
“Sixty percent of healthcare projects fail due to lack of user acceptance,” said Huey. “We’re in the era of experience and digital, because to drive digital it has to be about the experience – delivering meaningful, engaging experiences that really help the consumers. And by that I mean patients, caregivers, the clinicians; everyone. We need to make sure the experience they get is seamless and easy to use, because the technology has to fuel these experiences.”
Early in the pandemic, technology’s goal was to foster resiliency. According to Hodgin, the focus turned to delivering more features more quickly, and truly innovating – building things like dashboards, COVID-19 trackers and risk indicators, and getting those things out to consumers much more quickly than before.
“This took the form of telehealth, chatbots, call agents, apps, and with that shift to digital we saw a shift in usage patterns and the familiarity and comfort,” said Hodgin.
Ultimately, the goal is to achieve a hybrid model of care, in which patients can access both virtual and in-person channels based on what’s appropriate for their situation.
Challenges remain, however, especially with budget shortfalls plaguing many hospitals and health systems.
“The reality is, we already had very slim operating margins in health systems, and now a lot of providers are dealing with budget shortfalls,” said Huey. “We need to be looking at the experiences we want to deliver, and see how we’re going to drive efficiencies. We can’t ask them to do more without empowering them with the tools. The solutions we put in place have to enable a better experience for them and allow them to treat patients better.”
Hodgin said that to address inequities in care, IBM will apply what it’s working on across all population groups, helping disadvantaged groups manage their care more proactively than before.
“We want to see the culture of innovation really take root and not go back to the status quo,” he said.
Inside look at HIMSS21 Digital programming, including hours of on-demand content highlighting healthcare technology, innovation and education.
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