If 2020 was tough for the world’s healthcare providers, 2021 is starting off even tougher. Our regional leads look at how interoperability can support the automation, integration and evolution required as the global healthcare community prepares for an even more uncertain future.
Automation must help the exhausted healthcare workforce
Automated data sharing has been fundamental in helping many hospitals cope with Covid19. The data obtained through medical device integration has helped to optimize staff time and the clinical workflow, and reduce the risk of infection.
“The systematic capture of patient data from biomedical devices in the ICU has reduced the amount of effort spent by staff – especially nurses – on tasks that add no value,” says Alain Larochelle, our Canada/US lead.
His colleague Mark Smith, the UK country lead for Enovacom, adds: “The immediacy of data has allowed for quicker decision making, and the opportunity to optimize patient flow upstream and downstream in hospitals. It has also helped to reduce the risk of virus spread by limiting interaction with medical equipment.”
Flexibility has also been a feature of digital health’s response to the pandemic. “Healthcare providers need to be able to activate or deactivate Covid19 units very quickly,” says Simon Chassain, Enovacom’s deputy director of international sales.
“Medical devices, especially ventilators, have had to be connected, moved or disconnected very easily. Interoperability has been a vital part of this process.”
Such intense activity has taken its toll on an exhausted healthcare workforce. Some are looking to leave, which will place even more pressure on the remaining staff. Technology can help.
“Automation is key,” says Smith. “We have to trust that the technology will be accurate and reliable. With the threat of a reduction in staff numbers ahead, there is a pressing need to look for efficiency in any of the processes of collecting and transporting data and information to the front line of care.”
Larochelle agrees. “With such uncertainty over staffing numbers, we have to empower and enable our people and processes with the right technology to support the frontline delivery of care,” he says. “We have to act now, before it is too late.”
Integration needs to underpin a more coordinated approach
Interoperability and integration have been critical in supporting a flexible healthcare pandemic response, and will continue to be so.
Hospitals have needed to urgently use data held in systems that may have been provided by different vendors, or on different platforms.
“Sometimes solutions are cloud-based, and they need to be combined with ones that are on-premise,” says Chassain. “They can have different standards for data exchange and integration. Interoperability plays a central role in overcoming such challenges.”
This could be seen with Chalon-sur-Saône Hospital Group, which doubled its critical care bed capacity with the support of the interoperability expertise of the Enovacom team.
Integration has also been a critical part of the pandemic response. In France, Enovacom has helped to connect the vast majority of French testing laboratories to the national health information system.
Integration will continue to play a vital role in the months ahead for providers, as they look to address the backlog in care and support vaccination programmes.
“Connecting the hospital information system to a national vaccination system would be very useful,” says Chassain. “Online booking for vaccinations is also an important requirement for how such programmes are organised and delivered. This looks crucial to achieving what we need to do with vaccination programmes.”
The drive to make vaccination a success holds true in North America, and digitization can play an essential role. “Data repositories should be integrated so that predictive models can be developed that will inform where, how and under which criteria vaccines should be deployed,” says Larochelle.
The growing backlog and moves to more integrated care will also rely on greater interoperability.
“In the UK, the NHS will need technology to help prioritise thousands of patients who need urgent treatment,” says Smith. “This will mean retrieving the historical patient data in the EPRs, and the previous appointments data held in another IT system. This is a massive undertaking.”
Evolution and interoperability are essential for healthcare sustainability
Although some of the recent innovations have been a temporary fix, digital health will have to evolve to meet the needs of healthcare in these uncertain times. Interoperability will nurture that evolution.
“Capturing Covid-related data today is the key to building the AI models we need. These will enable us to be better prepared for any future outbreaks at the hospital, regional, supra-regional and global levels,” says Larochelle.
Future healthcare will require a more patient-centred approach, and data will have to flow between disparate organizations. “Care pathways or trajectories will need to be implemented and integrated into current systems for first, second and tertiary care settings,” says Larochelle.
Secure and appropriate access to health data is a pre-requisite for the necessary innovation. This requires the right data governance, so that any new technology can tap into the data in order to validate its value proposition at scale.
However the time to act is now. “If there is a further wave – as is expected next winter – there isn’t much flexibility in the healthcare system,” says Smith. “If we can accelerate the digital transformation of healthcare providers so they can share data easily and in a synchronized way, we may be able to provide some much-needed flexibility.”
“Last year showed us all that nobody could predict when the next wave would happen. After the first one, we thought we were ready for anything. What has happened recently has demonstrated that we were nowhere near enough ready,” affirms Chassain.
There is now a unique opportunity to build something that can address future challenges, he says. “We need to consider this crisis as an opportunity to do more healthcare digitization. Interoperability is key to what we should look to achieve, so we can provide digitized healthcare to the quality we expect, at the scale we require, and in the time we have got left.”
Everyone in healthcare expects the unexpected. The coronavirus pandemic might have been expected for some time, but its scale was exceptional – as was the response from the healthcare community. We have opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of digital healthcare like never before. This year, we need to use interoperability to automate and integrate care, so we can meet the next big challenges ahead, and perhaps even predict it before it ever happens.