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healthcare tech is helping combat COVID-19
September 21, 2020

10 Ways Healthcare Tech Is Helping Combat COVID-19

A look at how technology is making a difference in the delivery of care during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has seemingly reached into every corner of American healthcare, with new procedures, regulations and safety precautions required to keep patients and caregivers safe and protected from the virus.

Wearing masks and social distancing are crucial, but these low-tech strategies are hardly new; versions were used during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Videoconferencing has become part of everyday life, and telehealth, which was stuck in the doldrums for years, has taken flight.

Biotechnology firms are turning to old and new technologies to conduct research, ramp up testing, and develop and test vaccine candidates. Behind the scenes, recruitment platforms have been deployed to fill positions with trained healthcare professional, and robots are assisting in medical development and deliveries to cut down on human contact.

Here is a list of 10 technologies that have been part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Contact tracing platform

Healthcare tech has supported communitywide contact tracing and digital COVID-19 risk assessments. Adam Sabloff, founder and CEO of VirtualHealth, a New York City healthcare software and care management company, led a team that developed a screener survey to help identify patients who may have contracted COVID-19 or are at risk of infection.

“The pandemic has increased the need for our healthcare system to adopt a more proactive care model, an approach that is all about anticipating patients’ needs before an emergency (and costly) healthcare event,” Sabloff says.

Payer, provider communication

Russ Thomas, CEO of Availity, a healthcare information network company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, says technology has been indispensable during the pandemic, accelerating automation of clunky, manual processes.

Providers and payers have long used electronic transactions to process claims and other data, but several processes still rely heavily on phone calls, paper or fax machines, according to Thomas. “When COVID-19 forced staff to work remotely, both providers and payers had to quickly adopt other means of communication. Fortunately, technology already existed for sending secure electronic attachments and automating prior authorization.”

A silver lining of the pandemic is that it forced the sector to accelerate use of these tools, according to Thomas. Technology enabled the consolidation of policies and procedures into a central location for ease of use by providers, he says. Moreover, with so many people working remotely, these same technologies helped providers send relevant documentation and information to payers electronically.

AI for data mining

Robert L. Quigley, M.D., senior vice president and regional medical director of International SOS, a risk mitigation firm, notes that one of the strongest technological tools in the fight against COVID-19 is artificial intelligence (AI) and the capability to analyze enormous amounts of data. “AI can be used to evaluate a large number of patients’ medical records at once to identify which (patients) are (at) highest risk and should receive treatment first,” he says.

Remote surveillance of patients on ventilators

Some hospitals are using remote surveillance to effectively monitor COVID-19 patients on ventilators and protect care teams. Chris Gutmann, executive director of information technology (IT) for Yale New Haven Health, describes how this large healthcare system in Connecticut remotely monitors patients on ventilators at its five hospitals.

“The VPS (ventilated patient surveillance) workstation helps staff remotely see and hear the ventilators in the nontraditional ICU settings of the pandemic,” he says. The workstation analyzes livestreaming data from ventilators and makes it available to the health system’s tele-ICU group. “It escalates emergent clinically actionable events to respiratory therapists, pulmonologists and intensivists,” Gutmann says. Remote surveillance helps protect front-line workers from unnecessary exposure to infection and reduces the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Access to clinical histories at the point of care

Matthew Michela, president and CEO of Life Image, a healthcare interoperability company in suburban Boston that specializes in the sharing of images, says many healthcare institutions are using technology to reduce dependence on physically managing records, help control infection spread and increase access to important clinical data.

He cites a recent study that revealed that just 6% of patients had their health history available when they went to the hospital for COVID-19 treatment.

“Healthcare data is notoriously siloed,” Michela says, voicing a common sentiment. But delivering acute care during a pandemic puts a premium on access to a patient’s clinical history at the point of care, he notes, and the healthcare system responded to the need. “The gap in access to important clinical information was quickly recognized, and many in the industry deployed existing technology solutions to effectively exchange data with community providers or patients to better coordinate care,” he says.

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Originally published on Managed Healthcare Executive by Keith Loria, September 21, 2020.