As the world reimagines the ways healthcare is delivered, supported and managed, these are the trends taking on a new sense of urgency: centering care around the patient, supporting healthcare workers and driving greater transparency across the ecosystem.

In recent years, efforts to improve the patient experience and engage patients in their own care have been slowly building momentum, yet telemedicine, remote monitoring, real-time location services and digital behavioral health could not compete with existing fee-for-service, face-to-face business models and were not widely adopted. Within a few short months, everything has changed dramatically, and healthcare organizations are clamoring for tools to help them manage COVID-19 patients.

The current crisis requires patients to be evaluated through symptomatic surveillance as part of a broader strategy, and online tools and mobile applications can help healthcare workers and patients screen themselves. For example, internet of things (IoT) technologies can monitor oxygenation, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure for asymptomatic and symptomatic patients — the same vitals normally tracked in a hospital setting — allowing patients who don’t need hospitalization to be looked after remotely. These tools and apps can also be leveraged to recruit and monitor patients on treatments and for possible vaccine development. Using these mobile and self-service technologies at scale in the fight against COVID-19 will provide the healthcare industry with a wealth of knowledge and hands-on opportunities to refine and advance them, so caregivers can improve care without losing sight of the patient.

Protecting the protectors

Generally speaking, there are always uncertainties in treating diseases, especially viruses. All the more reason that those caring for patients — the first responders, doctors and nurses — need protection.

Remote patient monitoring models can triage and manage patients from prediagnosis to post-ICU care. In-hospital technology solutions, such as robotics, can limit unnecessary exposure of healthcare workers to patients.

It is not just exposure to the virus that poses threats. It’s also an overwhelmed workforce. To mitigate growing concerns over workforce capacity, novel data-driven staffing models could be used to help hospitals appropriately plan for and staff in the event of a crisis, natural disaster or other emergency. For example, models that selectively assign healthcare workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 as well as those who have tested negative to participate in remote and or in-person care, depending on their symptoms and ability to work, could go a long way toward delivering efficient care that matches staffing resources.

Crises also can take a massive toll on the mental health of doctors and nurses. Hospital administrators need to find ways to support these workers and help them deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With a shortage of trained PTSD psychiatrists, digital solutions, such as artificial intelligence-powered behavioral health platforms, or digital humans, can help hospitals manage their professional population and provide human staff members with the support they need to keep caring for patients.

Transparent management of inventory

One of the most serious problems for healthcare workers during the crisis has been getting access to masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and having enough ventilators to care for sick patients. An issue the virus has highlighted is that hospitals have no efficient way to track and manage these supplies. Worse, the opacity of how much inventory is available, how it is being distributed and whether it is being replenished is fraying the relationship between the administration and healthcare workers.

Inventory management again brings to the forefront the use of technology to transform supply chain operations. Real-time location trackers allow hospitals to track and locate supplies. Creating reports that share distribution of vital masks, PPE and ventilators over time, along with regular communications, can rebuild staff morale and trust in their healthcare administrations’ efforts to protect them — and safely help patients. These data-driven approaches can help hospitals prepare for and deliver better care not just during crises, but also in their day-to-day operations.

New directions in health

COVID-19 continues to strain healthcare. But many organizations are moving forward with new technologies, digital solutions and processes to help them overcome the challenges. As the healthcare industry adjusts, these measures won’t be considered temporary, but advancements that address the very real concerns of patients and healthcare providers: better care, safety, transparency and efficiency.