• Michael Krajecki, Author |

It was only just a few months ago that healthcare organizations were focused on implementing emerging technologies and advanced analytics to achieve competitive advantage, improve patient experiences, and reach better outcomes.

Today, their mandate is vastly different: driving innovation to manage COVID-19, arguably a matter of life and death. Thankfully, telehealth is able to keep uninfected patients separate from those who are critically ill; remote monitoring is helping facilitate recovery for those convalescing at home; predictive analytics is used to direct resources and supplies to areas overwhelmed by patient volumes, and advanced analytics are helping predict and track the virus.

It is a critically urgent time to fast-track emerging technology adoption. Quick-win and creative deployment models can help healthcare organizations operate with great agility while responding to the outbreak. Solutions implemented today should be capable of being sustained and improved over time.

Four emerging technology solutions can help healthcare organizations not only respond and get ahead of COVID-19, but also prepare for the new reality when this public health crisis is behind us.

  1. Virtual health advancements

    Virtual health has long been gaining traction, but COVID-19 has jumpstarted efforts into high gear. Digital-first interactions are being used to offer urgent assistance and answer questions for the “worried well,” as a first line of screening for those likely to test positive for the virus, as a means of keeping appointments with chronic disease patients without requiring them to visit to the doctor’s office, and as a conduit for infected medical staff who are well enough to contribute from home.

    Looking forward, there are opportunities to use emerging technologies to significantly improve the quality of virtual care beyond typical voice and video consultations. For example: 
    1. By offering direct integration between telehealth services and consumer wearables, clinicians will be able to monitor and track such patient variables as heart rate, activity levels, sleep patterns, and ECG results.
    2. Augmented reality can be utilized to enhance telehealth, providing a mechanism to better gauge a patient’s physical condition. Expected enhancements to digital devices include LIDAR cameras that enable accurate measurement of physical changes (e.g. swollen glands) and detection of changes to physical appearance. (e.g., pale skin).
    3. Chat bots can offer services beyond simple tasks like pre-screening patients prior to a telemedicine appointment. Enhanced chat bots are designed to be continuously updated with health trends to provide potentially life-saving information.
  2. Next-gen remote monitoring

    Before COVID-19, remote monitoring centered on devices like continuous monitors for diabetics and cardiac patients. While the pace of COVID-19 transmission and the surge in cases precludes the development of new remote monitoring devices in the short term, it is arguable that, in anticipation of the next public health crisis, we’ll see an increased use of devices to let doctors easily monitor patients recovering at home.

    Remote monitoring is also critical for hospital inpatients. Currently, connected medical devices comprise a highly decentralized ecosystem of vendors, sensors, and monitors. While device alarm thresholds are typically monitored at nearby nurse stations, the information from medical devices is rarely analyzed within prescriptive health models. Going forward, there is a significant opportunity to create a trusted data integration backbone for patient monitoring devices, bringing time-synchronized data from multiple products and sources into a single repository.

  3. Contingency planning with advanced analytics

    During fast-moving situations like COVID-19, healthcare leaders are increasingly reliant upon data modeling to make well-informed decisions that can affect health and economic factors. Curated data from various sources, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), are critical to achieving meaningful insights such as forecasting patient demand and the financial impact of a pandemic.

    For example, hospitals across geographies need to forecast the timing and severity of infections in their local population, by combining epidemiological analysis of cases with granular geographic information, updated in real-time to support specific scenarios.

    Even after COVID-19 subsides, organizations can use advanced analytics to obtain updated sales and revenue forecasts by year, business unit, and geography, and, the estimated impact on their supply chain footprint. These solutions can be used to:

    Perform “what if” scenarios, based on health and epidemiology estimates of a public health event’s impact.
    1. Prepare for future “waves” of a virus.
    2. Allow self-learning as new epidemiological and other pertinent data becomes available and incorporated into the solution.
    3. Create models for use after COVID-19 to enhance steady-state risk and contingency planning.
  4. Blockchain for information sharing

    Some healthcare systems such as that in the United States, are fragmented and distributed across multiple entities. Between various hospital systems, private payers, government agencies, labs, pharmacies, etc., there are major challenges inhibiting efficient communication. Although a public health emergency requires rapid mobilization and communication, the technology and processes across these organizations are unable to support a timely, unified response.

    Blockchain can quickly enable cross-organizational communication through a trusted and resilient platform by:
    1. Creating a distributed workflow for matching candidates and patients for plasma serum therapy.
    2. Tracking and monitoring patients who are required to self-quarantine.
    3. Monitoring adoption rates for vaccinations.
    4. Distributing limited resources where they’re needed most.

The path to sustainable innovation

Emerging technologies and advanced analytics must continue to be critical tools in battling COVID-19. Whether capabilities like virtual health, remote patient monitoring, contingency planning, and blockchain are grown internally or through partnerships, the technologies put in place today will likely be of immense value in the future. The first steps to institute sustainable healthcare innovation are:

  1. Establish your foundation: A digital, cloud-based backbone with advanced analytics across your enterprise will help enable expedited innovation at scale.
  2. Leap forward with acceleration: Rapid prototyping and minimum viable products are time-proven methods of continuously validating ideas and embracing a fail-fast mentality.
  3. Implement with experimentation: Research trials with new technologies, like augmented reality, and AI, help organizations see “what’s next” and lead to new solutions and improved experiences.
  4. Achieve lasting value: As innovation projects mature and demonstrate their value to the business, they can be expanded across the enterprise and improve behaviors over time.

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