Healthcare News & Insights

Cloud-based and virtual lessons learned from COVID-19 storm

Looking back to early January, there was no understanding of the storm about to hit the U.S. healthcare system, nor its devastating impacts. It would test hospitals, emergency clinics, frontline workers and the American public like never before – especially in terms of clinical and economic supply and demand. 

When a storm hits, most people have an umbrella to shield themselves from the rain. But what if you don’t have an umbrella?

Many hospitals, emergency departments and clinics had no umbrellas when the COVID-19 storm hit. As they scrambled in a situation that had no precedent, they looked to health IT as an umbrella that could offer some protection. This meant that technology vendors needed to quickly update and modify functionalities specific to COVID-19 in order to help these providers weather the emerging demand and supply.

Immediate and overwhelming demand

The New England Journal of Medicine details that on Jan. 19, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Snohomish County – not too far from Seattle – by a man who went to an urgent care clinic with a cough and fever – one clinic and one case.

Not too long after that first case, the first COVID-19-related death was reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – a man in his 50s – also in the state of Washington. One hospital and one death.

Just months after the first case and the first death, the storm continues to rage (with numbers of cases and deaths continuing to rise exponentially).

The demand this pandemic has placed on healthcare and care delivery has been unprecedented. At first, there weren’t enough tests or ventilators, and then frontline workers (critical human resources) began falling ill – and dying – from the pandemic. Behind all this demand are patients – not faceless “cases” – that need timely and efficient solutions to track their tests, move them through the health system and get them critical care when they most need it.

Not only were manufacturers such as Ford, GE and General Motors changing their assembly lines to produce equipment such as ventilators to deal with the pandemic, other – not immediately noticeable –– companies were changing their health IT solution “assembly lines” because of the surge in demand.

Ultimately, everyone was working together to build a better umbrella to weather this storm.

Supplying the countrywide and global need

To deal with the pandemic meant the healthcare system and the technology companies that support it had to think differently, with a focus on coordinating data and information-sharing faster than ever. Some of those health IT companies had to completely rethink their business models and how they were going to meet the increasing needs; others had to modify the technologies they already had.

In a socially distanced world, many health IT companies needed to reconsider how their solutions would be implemented to meet the needs of health systems and hospitals – because up until this point, those technology installs required onsite human resources and end-user training.

In May, one electronic health record vendor rolled out its first-ever virtual EHR go-live at a hospital in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, these implementations take hundreds of onsite people hours. But because of social distancing and travel restrictions, and given the hospital’s previous EHR vendor was set to expire, the conversion couldn’t wait.

Although much of the technology behind EHRs is cloud-based, traditionally, people from the EHR vendor needed to be on site to implement and configure equipment and software, as well as facilitate face-to-face training sessions for different groups. A few cloud-based health IT companies had figured out well before the pandemic how to implement their solutions virtually – without onsite resources – and end-user training could be intuitive without the need for training sessions. This is the purpose of cloud-based technology solutions – they’re virtually everywhere and easy to implement with successful adoption from the first time they’re used.

To meet the supply requirements created by COVID-19 cases, these cloud-based companies could also quickly reconfigure the tools they had already created to meet the needs of patient testing, case workflows, care team handoffs, local and national reporting requirements, and immediate communication to mobile devices.

Cloud-based technology, including go-lives, has high value that extends beyond the current situation. Like telehealth, that value has become more apparent in recent months – and it will endure.

Lessons learned

One of the most important lessons learned was that what previously required onsite configurations, such as EHRs and technology to improve EHR usability, have now gone virtual. This new paradigm will change business models and affect how fast – and how successful – rollouts and implementations are in the future. These companies will also need to be mindful of the associated costs for these implementations, and the time it will take to roll them out, end-to-end.

The second lesson learned was that cloud-based and virtual health IT companies were able to react to the pandemic faster, and they were better suited to meet the critical, immediate needs of frontline workers and patients.

Of course, no one technology is perfect. But throughout the remainder of the storm that’s the current pandemic – and for future storms that come our way – cloud-based and virtual health IT companies are umbrellas that should be ready and waiting to meet unexpected demand and supply.

Author: Doug Cusick is the president and CEO of TransformativeMed, a company that transforms how electronic health records are used by directly embedding clinician-friendly solutions.

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