The COVID-19 pandemic hurried many trends in healthcare, including telehealth and data analytics. However, the pandemic has also exposed areas of weakness. There are some concerns developing about how the industry will evolve amid the pandemic and for years to come. Here are 6 concerns and important considerations.
- Hospitals’ inability to gather and report real-time data.
The pandemic exposed how unequipped many hospitals and health systems are to gather and report real-time data. In the past, real-time data was a “nice to have” feature that large systems and academic medical centers could support; now it’s a matter of life and death. Many institutions scrambled to gather data and reporting on PPE, hospital beds, ICU beds and staffing to make sure they could handle the surge of COVID-19 patients.
- Human error in data entry.
The HHS Protect COVID-19 data portal requires many hospitals to manually enter data, which exposes it to the risk of human error. HHS now ties distribution of the COVID-19 treatment drugs to the data reported and continues to allocate resources based on it, which places additional emphasis on the individuals entering information. Even after the pandemic subsides, hospitals and health system will rely on manual data entry to make important clinical and operational decisions. Some health systems are moving toward more automated data entry, but not everyone will be able to make the switch.
- The uncertain landscape of point solutions.
The pandemic has affected all organizations, including many vendors. Health systems are re-prioritizing projects and what was an imperative last November is no longer on the organization’s radar. Travel to health systems, live events and in-person meetings that many companies relied on to generate business have been scrapped. Some point solution vendors are struggling to stay afloat financially as the landscape changes.
- People using online care and virtual care for problems they could solve themselves.
Health systems rapidly expanded telehealth and virtual care capabilities when the pandemic hit and were able to support those visits because CMS and insurance companies changed reimbursement policies and rates to make telehealth viable. However, in some cases, individuals may overload the system by engaging with healthcare providers, either through text or virtual visits, for common problems that don’t need expert advice. There is a danger in over-utilizing telehealth; CMS and private payers are reviewing utilization during the pandemic to develop permanent policies. Extending access will increase costs if patients use it unnecessarily or if they engage in telehealth that eventually leads to an office visit anyway.
- Budget cuts for tech upgrades and innovation.
Hospitals and health systems are taking a huge financial hit during the pandemic and many are struggling to balance their budgets. Technology and innovation spend may be on the chopping block, which could spell trouble for organizations in the future. The pandemic has highlighted the need for investing in IT to improve access to care, data analytics, precision medicine and innovation for more efficiency within the organization and better-quality care.
- Relying on technology to replace interpersonal relationships.
It was necessary to transition many interactions to the virtual space during the pandemic to prevent the spread of the virus. CIOs rapidly supported the shift to remote work among their teams as well as telehealth for clinical visits, and while there have been efficiencies realized, virtual interactions lack the human connection to build trust with patients and among teams as well as generate the random encounters that lead to innovation. While some companies have been successful in moving to a completely remote work model, healthcare will likely need to develop a hybrid remote and in-person work model for both clinical and operational purposes as a high-touch, empathetic industry.