Healthcare News & Insights

Five technology lessons healthcare organizations learned from COVID-19

More than nine months after the coronavirus became a household word, many healthcare organizations are still struggling to catch up on delayed appointments and postponed surgeries caused by the pandemic. Providers are getting creative and leveraging technology to reduce exposures and help keep clinicians and patients safe – gaining valuable insights into a wide range of technology benefits.

Virtual health care can reduce exposure and save resources

Mobile technology has proven invaluable as hospitals strive to cut down on the number of non-critical appointments and in-person visits. Offering virtual health care as a way to schedule routine checkups can help reduce unnecessary exposure as well as preserve resources, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), for more critical visits. Virtual health care is also more inclusive of a remote workforce.

In some instances, hospitals are even mounting a rugged tablet on an IV pole to allow specialists to interact with patients remotely via video. This novel use of technology makes it easier for all clinicians involved in a patient’s care to participate in rounds and often results in faster care because specialists can conduct multiple consults without traveling between rooms and hospitals.

Achieving faster patient turnaround is possible

Healthcare team members are using technology to more quickly and accurately process data and communicate with patients to answer questions and resolve issues. For example, clinicians gather, label, and record specimens at the bedside using barcode labels, mobile printers and handheld computers.  When a patient’s lab test is complete, nurses receive notifications of results on their mobile devices. Using that same device, they can contact the doctor directly for new orders and record adjustments to a patient’s care plan by securely accessing the patient’s electronic medical records (EMR).

Mobile technology is also helping improve patient turnaround times by automating previously manual tasks. For example, when a nurse updates a patient’s EMR after discharge, the system automatically notifies housekeeping that the room is ready for cleaning. This is particularly important today as increased sanitization requirements can cause longer waits in both emergency and in-patient care due to the lack of available rooms.

Simple changes can yield significant time savings

This same technology-driven automatic notification can increase the efficiency of patient surgeries or other procedures – and improve operating room turnaround times by up to 10%. Hospitals can analyze the data they collect on turnaround times to improve future operations. For instance, if a hospital or surgical center realizes that they automatically block out two hours for a specific procedure when it typically takes only 90 minutes, they can adjust their future schedules to support more operations in less time.

Technology can help healthcare organizations reduce wasted time in other ways as well. According to one analysis, nurses spend as many as 40 hours each month searching for equipment. For a 500-person nursing staff, that adds up to 20,000 wasted hours every month! Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) location technology to tag and track high-use assets, such as wheelchairs and IV pumps, nurses can more easily find the equipment they need by simply checking their mobile devices – instead of calling for help or searching the hallways.

Technology can also help reduce the wasted time that occurs when multiple caregivers respond to the same patient alert. After implementing mobile technology and alarm management applications, one healthcare organization that previously escalated 75% of its calls was able to answer 75% of its alerts on the first notification instead.

Better inventory management can dramatically reduce costs

Many healthcare organizations are still struggling to recover from the financial impact of the reduction in non-essential procedures caused by COVID-19. As a result, they are looking for new ways to cut costs without impacting patient care. To do this, many are turning to RFID systems to tag inventory to help reduce supply waste. By improving supply chain processes organizations can reduce inventory-related expenses and locate items more quickly.

Investing in purpose-built mobile devices is essential

It’s vital to choose a mobile device that can survive drops to hard hospital floors, exposure to dust, dirt and water and is purpose-built for healthcare. This is especially important in the continued fight against COVID-19. Healthcare organizations need devices that can withstand aggressive infection control procedures.

In addition, as these devices are increasingly used to support remote healthcare via videoconference, its robust battery life ensures that these devices last an entire 12-hour shift and have extended batteries for prolonged usage.

Purpose-built devices with integrated barcode scanners allow nurses to perform tasks such as medication administration and specimen collection at the bedside using the same device they use to securely access patient data and communicate with other care team members. These devices are also ergonomically designed to minimize the impact of high-volume use.

Mobile technology: A gamechanger for health care

With all the benefits of mobile technology, it’s no surprise that more than 88% of nurses expect to use mobile devices to access electronic health records (EHRs), check lab results and monitor patient alarms by 2022. It’s also no surprise that hospitals today are expanding the use of mobile technology beyond just clinicians to improve workflow efficiencies and improve care in other patient-related areas such as transport, food service and housekeeping.

The simple truth is that mobile technology – whether used to conduct virtual patient consults, reduce wasted time or eliminate unnecessary costs – not only improves patient care but also accelerates patient turnaround.  And for a 275-bed hospital, reducing the average stay by just four hours is the equivalent of adding 10 new beds. That’s a gamechanger for hospitals looking to support more patients with fewer resources while continuing to deliver superior patient care.

Author: Rikki Jennings is the Chief Nursing Informatics Officer at Zebra Technologies.

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