By Kevin Torf
The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown a big wrench into calculations about how to proceed with current and future healthcare IT planning. As health systems and hospitals look ahead to the coming weeks, months and even to a post-pandemic time, the inability to keep operations running smoothly and deliver positive patient experiences is a stark reality for those facing IT limitations.
The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the IT departments of hospitals, with the limited available spending centered around new necessities like security, telehealth, remote work and real time data. Understanding that capital is limited in health systems right now, we’re continuing to see an accelerating trend of moving to cloud-based infrastructure service providers and reducing hospital-owned IT infrastructure and the staff needed to maintain them.
There has never been a more important time for healthcare leaders to prioritize planning and investments in IT, as these challenges can easily lead to the closure of hospitals and significant impact to the communities they serve.
Changes in IT Priorities
IT investments will need to be made to support the new necessities brought on from the pandemic – telehealth, remote work, digital health screenings, self-service digital resources, “remote call centers” to manage calls, team communications and more. To implement these new priorities, planned IT capital investments and staff will have to be re-allocated to support changes in workflow.
The speed of IT implementations enabling these changes is also a key factor in its success. Business needs are changing faster than most IT teams have typically been prepared for, increasing the need for making strategic IT decisions faster as well. The IT team will need to step back and provide singular IT initiatives that solve similar problems across multiple functional areas and understand how these initiatives will integrate with other initiatives to avoid building separate, standalone systems. For example, if an IT team can deliver a technical architecture and toolsets, it could serve both the “patient virtual experience” and a remote workforce capability. Hospitals that do not adapt and make changes will add to the already challenging current situation facing healthcare IT.
Newessential IT needs for hospitals
One of the most crucial needs for hospitals is real time data. While the data itself isn’t a new need, it is now essential to place a bigger emphasis on the organization of data, access to data and accuracy of data. Especially with remote workforces, this data is key to understanding and measuring productivity, account management, registration and marketing initiatives. With hospital resources focused on managing COVID patients, many of the traditional activities and services they provide are being sidelined, which will inevitably have long-term consequences. IT needs to deliver capabilities to provide consistent patient virtual experiences through video and augmented reality that allows physicians and hospitals to deliver remote patient billable services.
IT’s role post pandemic
Once this is behind us, hospitals will be challenged to have a stable sustainable IT operational, staffing and infrastructure model that can withstand the growth of new services developed to support the new post-pandemic healthcare operational models. The IT cost and staffing model will need to align with the new realities of patient engagement, financial constraints and a different workforce.
IT’s role post-pandemic will transition to enabling change and the resulting efficiencies in operational and clinical workflows. These teams will need to provide tools enabling remote patient care and the workforce in many, if not all functional areas of the organization. New tools will also be needed to effectively manage and monitor these new workflow KPIs and staff performance, and IT departments will have a big challenge in transitioning the skillsets of their staff to support these changes.
As we saw in the first six months of the pandemic, hospitals that had not invested in keeping their IT environment up-to-date fared worse in their ability to respond to organizational requirements because of outdated infrastructure. With no end in sight and new challenges sure to arise, now is the time for healthcare executives to assess how IT has enabled, or failed to help, their organization deal with this crisis, and to take a strategic approach to planning ahead.
Kevin Torf, co-founder and managing partner of T2 Tech Group, has been a renowned innovator and thought leader in the technology industry for over 35 years, specializing in large-scale IT strategic planning, project design and implementation. Kevin brings decades of experience in complex application deployment, IT architecture, electrical engineering and data center construction, infrastructure and consolidation, particularly within the healthcare space.