Post-Pandemic Healthcare Tech: Communication takes the lead

Preparedness in the post-pandemic era demands that the healthcare industry disentangle itself from the fax machines, pagers, land lines and other unwieldy implements of a bygone age.

Healthcare professionals gained a new appreciation for communication technology during a pandemic that reduced opportunities for in-person collaboration. At many U.S. hospitals, changes brought on by COVID-19 pushed legacy systems to the breaking point, straining aging infrastructure to serve as the primary links between doctors, nurses, support staff, administrators, back-office staffers working from home, remote testing and vaccination sites, patients, and patients' families.

Many were not up to the task.

Care teams that were better prepared technologically enjoyed clear advantages. Leveraging mobile devices for instant messaging, as well as voice and video calling, they were able to adapt and perform with minimal disruption. Using technologies that are already communication mainstays in most other industries, these healthcare trailblazers wielded their digital resources to synchronize treatment and care between caregivers working varied shifts or dispersed across multiple locations.

Even though restrictions are now easing in many communities, multiplying cases of the new COVID-19 delta variant serve as a reminder that further outbreaks are a continuing risk. At any time, hospital systems could face the next pandemic and its inherent communication challenges.

Preparedness in the post-pandemic era demands that the healthcare industry disentangle itself from the fax machines, pagers, land lines and other unwieldy implements of a bygone age. These obsolete media create unnecessary and detrimental fragmentation that divides care teams and hinders the free exchange of data and ideas.

That is why more and more health systems are investing in advanced communication solutions that support seamless collaboration. In addition to fixing what is weak or broken, this retooling represents one of the greatest opportunities to advance the delivery of healthcare. As these industry-forward adopters have discovered, an effective clinical collaboration platform offers a host of benefits to organizations, healthcare professionals, and patients.

Something for everyone

Cutting-edge communications encompass more than simply hosting conversations between caregivers. Rather, the best systems streamline and enhance those communications with automated workflows, access to digital reports, and other features that increase efficiency while saving time, money and lives in the process.

Combining highly secure cloud technology and access via desktop and mobile devices, today's leading solutions bring together all members of a patient's care team on a secure, dedicated channel. This enables everyone associated with an individual's care to give and receive updates in real time on treatments and conditions as they change.

Boosting teamwork in this way has obvious advantages for the patient as well as the attending physician, nurses, and other team members. Interacting in real time shortens time to treatment; having more eyes on the treatment plan and its implementation can lower risk and inform responders in the event of complications. Delivery of care is typically smoother, improving team members' experiences as well as that of the patient while improving patient outcomes.

The patient experience often depends on how well patients and their families are informed of key information and developments; whether they can obtain answers they seek; and the convenience or inconvenience of admissions, billing, and other business processes. The trend in healthcare communications solutions is to address these needs through user-friendly patient portals, which the patient or their designated family members can access according to their choice of email, voice, text, or video calling. Patient access systems should be as intuitive as possible, reflecting the methods consumers typically use to communicate in their day-to-day lives.

Purpose-built vs. repurposed

In exploring a hospital's or hospital system's options for improving collaboration, it is important to consider the proper role of electronic medical records (EMR) management software. EMR systems are data storage technology, and access to EMR files by authorized users can be a useful addition to a collaboration platform.

EMR systems were not designed to serve as collaboration platforms, although some organizations have pressed them into that use. To protect patient privacy, EMR systems are non-inclusive or closed structures that preclude access to some care team members. This characteristic alone rules out the use of EMR systems to effectively link entire care teams for collaboration.

Electronic record systems also typically lack the means to incorporate physiologic monitors, nurse calls and other alerts. By contrast, advanced collaboration platforms use these and other inputs to help paint a complete picture of a patient's progress and condition in real time.

Administrators should bear these respective characteristics in mind when shopping for a collaboration solution and avoid putting the cart before the horse. It is best to put the collaboration and communication platform at the center, providing maximum flexibility for care teams to communicate and coordinate their work.