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The healthcare sector has gone through a massive stress test following the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has highlighted the problems halting the industry for years — from a healthcare workforce shortage to growing healthcare disparities to rigid, manual workflows.
To battle those challenges, the industry leaders turned to healthcare software development and patient care technology in particular.
Their efforts paid off: using technology in nursing and primary care practice has helped healthcare workers battle the virus more effectively while attending to the population’s other healthcare needs.
Health policy experts believe that such rapid adoption of technology, including patient care technology and nursing solutions, has sparked an industry-wide change for years to come. In this article, we will look into the factors that facilitated that change and assess the role of technology in shaping up the new look for the whole industry, focusing specifically on patient care and nursing technology solutions.
1. The Growing Healthcare Workforce Shortage
The top factor that is making healthcare providers consider improving patient care through technology is the workforce shortage. By 2025, the demand for healthcare workers is likely to outpace the supply, a recent healthcare workforce analysis predicts. The US healthcare labor market is projected to experience a shortage of:
The pandemic has worsened the shrinking of the healthcare workforce. Long hours, low pay, and inadequate staffing have led to physicians and nurses leaving their jobs. Another factor amplifying the workforce shortage crisis is the aging population. People have to cope with more chronic conditions and require more medical care. The issue is even more acute in rural and remote areas: Utah, Vermont, Tennessee, and other predominantly rural states, as well as remote territories, such as the Northern Mariana Islands, have the highest shortage of medical professionals per capita. And that brings us on to the next factor.
2. Unequal Access to Quality Healthcare
Another factor influencing the patient care technology adoption rates is unequal access to care and healthcare disparities. The COVID-19 has caused a sweeping change in who can receive medical care and how they access it.
The National Center for Health Statistics found out that between June 9 and July 6, 2020, nearly 40% of people weren’t able to access healthcare services, the rate dropping to almost 30% during the second round of investigation between August 3 and August 20, 2020, though.
Such poor results were just a natural continuation of a trend shaping up the US healthcare sector. The country has entered the pandemic having the lowest healthcare accessibility scores among high-income countries, research conducted by The Commonwealth Fund says.
Source: The Commonwealth Fund, Fund Reports, August 4, 2021
For some population groups, including younger people, women, Black and Hispanic people, and LGBT individuals, it has become even more challenging to access quality healthcare, the National Center for Health Statistics reports.
Source: the National Center for Health Statistics, Reduced Access to Care
The reasons for a decrease in healthcare access are many. Along with the shortage of healthcare resources, they span the patients’ fear of being exposed to the virus, not wanting to be a burden to the overloaded healthcare system, and, most importantly, cost-related barriers.
3. Growing Medical Care Costs
Another vital issue healthcare executives were trying to solve with patient care technology is eliminating cost-related barriers.
Even before the pandemic, nearly 50% of the US lower-income population reported experiencing problems with accessing medical services, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s research. That was, not in the least, due to insurance coverage gaps. KFF finds that 49% of the US population gets their insurance through employers. Considering that in the US, COVID-19 claimed nearly 9.6 million jobs, coverage losses increased significantly.
The issues are coupled with the rising healthcare spendings. Although healthcare spendings dropped to a historical minimum at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the effects of the pandemic are predicted to be short-term. Experts project health spendings to rise again at an average annual rate of 5.4%.
Other cost-related reasons contributing to fewer people accessing healthcare and more healthcare providers turning to patient care technology include changes in personal income, expenses, and debt, which are caused mainly by COVID-19.
4. Low Administrative Efficiency
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how inefficient healthcare workflows are, calling healthcare executives to rethink the traditional ways and adopt patient care technology to improve patient engagement and speed up workflows.
For ages, the healthcare sector has been more provider-centric rather than patient-centric. Such an approach characterized by rigid manual workflows has led to weeks-long insurance claims processing and disproportionately long wait times between appointments and actual visits. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association proves: the wait times at private-sector hospitals range from 16.5 days in New York City to 57.33 days in Boston, Massachusetts.
US health policy experts believe that COVID-19 accelerated innovation in healthcare by nearly a decade, facilitating broader adoption of patient care technology and speeding up technology advances in nursing.
The initial reasons behind such a swift mindset shift and unpredictably high patient care technology implementation rates — in April 2020, overall tech utilization for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February 2020 — was bound to tame the COVID-19 emergency. The peak of the crisis left behind, the adoption rates are still high. So, what made the technology stick around, and what are the specific benefits of information technology in nursing and primary care practice?
The pioneers in adopting patient care technology report that healthcare innovations can:
Reduce Healthcare Disparities
Certain examples of patient care technologies, like telehealth spanning remote patient monitoring and live video conferencing, can improve healthcare accessibility for low-mobility patients and those in remote geographical regions. Health services backed up by patient care technology tend to be cheaper than on-site visits, which reduces disparities for low-income people. This way, a virtual visit costs an average of $50, while the price for an office visit could be as high as $170.
Take the Burden of Administrative Work Off Healthcare Workers’ Shoulders
Administrative work takes up one-sixth of US physicians’ working hours and lowers their job satisfaction, a study found. By automating such typical clinical tasks as appointment scheduling, insurance claims processing, inventory management, and shift planning with patient care technology, healthcare practices can increase the amount of time healthcare workers spend with their patients one-on-one and improve their job satisfaction.
Facilitate Well-informed Decision-making
By bringing together siloed data from disparate sources and putting that data into action, patient care technology can help healthcare institutions achieve greater data interoperability, support healthcare workers’ decision-making, automate daily processes, for example, inventory and shift management, and tap into predictive analytics.
Reduce Hospitalizations and Hospital Visits, Shifting Care Delivery to Patients’ Homes
Information technologies in nursing and patient care help significantly reduce hospital admissions. For example, the Commonwealth Fund reports that broader adoption of telehealth has lowered the admission rates for patients with depression by 56% and for those with diabetes — by 20%. Readmissions have sunk, too, following a wider adoption of patient care technology.
Studies report a 51% decrease in hospital readmissions for cardiac patients. The number of office visits is going down as well. For example, Frederick Memorial Hospital reports on the outcomes of a telehealth program first rolled out in 2016. The number of ER visits has decreased by half, and the cost of care for virtual patients has been reduced by 50%.
Patient care technology can drive massive change in how healthcare is provided — whether in a hospital ward, in a physician’s office, or at a patient’s home. Here are the five key areas that can benefit from adopting patient care technology and nursing technology solutions.
1. Medical Diagnosis
There are many examples of patient care technologies that assist healthcare workers in diagnosing patients — these range from self-diagnosis medical mobile apps to complex, AI-powered healthcare systems. No matter the application type, patient care technology for medical diagnosis supports healthcare specialists via an enhanced medical diagnosing process, which is as quick and precise as a doctor’s.
When it comes to the adoption rates of medical diagnosis solutions, they were pretty high even before the pandemic. In 2017, 40.2% of US hospitals had advanced medical diagnosing solutions in place. The numbers increased even more following the COVID-19 crisis. The AI-powered diagnosing software market, for instance, is reported to have grown by 79.4% in a year and is expected to continue growing in 2021.
The popularity of advanced medical diagnosing software among healthcare providers is no surprise considering the benefits such applications can drive. The one particularly worth mentioning includes a more personalized approach to treatment and a reduced risk of medication errors. Since nearly 65% of inpatients were exposed to potentially hurtful combinations of drugs, preventing such cases is quite a significant advantage.
Some other applications of patient care technology catering to patient diagnostic safety include point-of-care diagnostic systems and smart IV pumps.
Point-of-care diagnostics systems are small and user-friendly devices that can measure patients’ vital signs, such as ECG, respiratory rates, and oxygen saturation, precisely and in a matter of minutes. The vitals taken with these portable systems can be sent directly to nurses or physicians. Healthcare workers can, too, be notified in case of suspicious readings.
Point-of-care diagnostic devices were extensively used to combat COVID-19. Powered by ultrasound technology, they help accurately calculate fluid retention in the lungs’ pleural cavities, contributing to more accurate drug dispensing.
Smart, automated IV pumps, in turn, allow automatically giving out the correct dosages of drugs or nutrition. Certain kinds of pumps allow patients to control the amount of medication, say, pain killers, themselves — that, however, is within a controlled range.
2. Patient Monitoring
Another example of improving patient care through technology is related to the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). With its wearables, smart beds, and even ingestible sensors, IoMT allows monitoring patients’ vitals, locations, movements, and medication intake in near real-time.
Healthcare Wearables come in many forms — from health watches to blood pressure monitors to ECG monitors and beyond. A study conducted by HIMSS found that more than 50% of healthcare services providers find wearable patient care technology helpful in monitoring their patients. The short-term outcomes of relying on wearable technology for closer patient monitoring are positive — people tend to adjust their behavior when being watched by medical services providers.
Smart Hospital Beds help nurses monitor patients’ vitals, allowing the latter to stay comfortable and safe. Packed with sensors, smart beds can track patient’s movements and weight changes, helping prevent bedsores and falls. Smart beds can be integrated with any other patient care technology or a hospital-wide system, for instance, a mobile nursing app or a hospital EMR. That provides for well-rounded information exchange and timely hospital staff notifications.
Ingestible Sensors, in turn, help monitor the state of gut health, study the impact of food and medication on a patient’s health, and monitor patients’ medication intake. The data generated by ingestible sensors can be quickly sent over to a nurse’s or a physician’s smartphone, who can then look into a patient’s key gut biomarkers.
As far as adopting IoMT-based patient care technology is concerned, there is still room for improvement. A study conducted by Deloitte found out that 31% of MedTech companies are actively transforming their business model to leverage the data generated by IoT devices.
3. Hospital Automation
Such sub-fields of patient care technology as IoMT solutions, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and Artificial Intelligence help improve hospital logistics, inventory, and pharmacy management, and speed up hospital processes.
With the help of RFID tags and location sensors integrated with a hospital management system, medication, lab specimen, blood samples, and hospital equipment transfer and management can be automated.
RPA, in turn, helps execute back-office tasks the way humans do, potentially saving healthcare facilities $13.3 billion on the automation of manual processes. The range of what RPA software agents are capable of in healthcare spans anything from processing transactions to manipulating data, triggering responses, and conversing with internal and external IT systems.
When it comes to AI, its possibilities for automating hospital operations are extensive, too. And while RPA usually makes decisions based on predefined rules, AI can solve more complex issues, such as revenue cycle or supply chain management. A report investigating the state of healthcare automation says: nine in ten hospitals now have an Artificial Intelligence strategy in place, and 75% of healthcare executives believe AI initiatives are more critical now due to the pandemic.
4. Communication and Remote Counseling
Another example of patient care technology that the pandemic has pushed into mainstream practice is telemedicine. McKinsey reports that telehealth use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID baseline.
At the peak of the pandemic, remote consultations conducted via laptops or mobile phones helped cut down on unnecessary hospital visits and reduce the risk of cross-infections.
The reliance on telehealth is likely to carry though, the prognoses say. About 40% of telehealth consumers say they would continue to use this patient care technology, compared to 11% before COVID-19. And it’s no wonder, really — telehealth is reinventing the traditional in-person care models, giving a chance for easier accessibility and higher affordability of medical care.
A sub-field of telemedicine technology, telehealth nursing care, has seen a surge in use as well. The technology lets nurses communicate with in- and outpatients via telephone triage setups. And with the help of IoMT sensors, those setups can even monitor patients’ oxygen levels, heart rate, respiration, and other parameters and deliver the readings to a nurse in near real-time.
Another type of patient care technology facilitating patient-provider communication is patient engagement solutions. The global patient engagement market is evaluated at $15.1 billion and is expected to grow by a CAGR of 21.4% by 2028. The growth is largely sparked by the pandemic, but the benefits of patient engagement solutions are hard to deny.
Using patient engagement technology, doctors can reach their patients anytime and anywhere, prevent worsening of patients’ conditions, and provide valuable medical advice as soon as needed. Patients, too, become a subject in the healthcare decision-making process, actively engaging in the discussion of treatment options and providing feedback on the quality of care received.
5. Education and Staff Training
Technologies support doctors and nurses in their training, too. Visual simulations, augmented reality, and virtual reality are increasingly used for surgical, rehabilitation, psychiatry, psychology, and nursing care training.
For example, 65% of nursing education programs have adopted virtual simulations, and nearly half of them plan to adopt VR by 2022, Wolters Kluwer survey found .
Apart from immersive VR-based experiences, nursing and primary care education programs have started to rely significantly on online learning. It is online learning that helps healthcare professionals upskill while delivering care at the frontline.
Bertalan Meskó, a digital health expert or the medical futurist as he calls himself, is sure: “The future of healthcare lies in working hand-in-hand with technology, and healthcare workers have to embrace emerging healthcare technologies in order to stay relevant in the coming years.”
Healthcare industry researchers at Deloitte predict that by 2040, the industry would face “a fundamental shift” — relying on big data, science, and technology, the sector could identify diseases earlier, intervene proactively, and help patients sustain their wellbeing more effectively.
We at ITRex believe that, too. Patient care and nursing technologies open new doors for both patients and healthcare professionals. The former get access to faster, more affordable, and more effective healthcare services, while the latter gain an opportunity to spend more time communicating with patients one-on-one and support them with medical advice whenever needed.
Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, the Internet of Medical Things, and other emerging technologies can help the sector reimagine what mainstream healthcare looks like. Moving from provider-centricity to patient-centricity, from rigid workflows to swift, automated processes, from reactive treatment to proactive diagnosing, is what the healthcare industry is likely to go through in the upcoming years.
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