Virtual care in a post-pandemic world: three key priorities for healthcare leaders
By Roy Jakobs Chief Business Leader Connected Care
Estimated reading time: 5-7 minutes
As we look to a post-pandemic world, healthcare industry leaders are asking themselves – how do we transform the technology we turned to in times of crisis into efficient, sustainable, secure solutions that drive quality, proactive care?
I envision three key priorities for healthcare leaders as they prepare for virtual care’s continued emergence as a standard of care: informatics and data integration to deliver healthcare anywhere; interoperable, secure IT networks; and adoption of a cloud-based platform approach for flexibility and scalability.
Intelligent informatics to power healthcare anywhere
During the pandemic, our customers across the globe realized that with the right solutions, care doesn’t have to be defined by a place, but instead by the patient and their condition. The power is not in audio or video capabilities – it’s in the intelligence that comes with collecting, analyzing and representing data for clinicians to use.
Healthcare leaders are keenly focused on developing virtual care strategies that go beyond wellness visits, exploring condition-centric patient care done outside of a clinical setting. Our Future Health Index 2021 report, which surveyed almost 3,000 healthcare leaders across 14 countries, found that healthcare leaders expect an average of 23% of routine care to still take place outside of the hospital walls three years from now, and the next frontier will be extending real-time care to those with acute needs and chronic condition management.
For acute patients who traditionally needed an inpatient admission to the hospital and required consistent rounding by a physician, they will soon be able to leverage connected solutions that can monitor these phases of acute care from home, helping to free clinicians from the bedside. Medical-grade wearables equipped with secure data integration can help ensure providers stay in-the-know and guide confident decision-making about whether a patient needs to be seen or be hospitalized. By taking a 360-degree-view approach to acute care – monitoring patients from pre-admission through post-discharge – healthcare providers can help keep patients in a more comfortable, lower-cost setting and better allocate resources according to risk.
When it comes to chronic condition management, there’s an immediate need to re-engage with chronically ill patients who have deferred care during COVID-19 and activate avenues for timely interventions before health issues escalate. For example, COPD patients can use connected ventilators that feed data to a cloud-based software platform, which keep care teams informed and able to individualize support. Patients with suspected cardiac arrythmias can be continuously monitored - detecting arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation - in a timely manner in the comfort of their own home. Patients may stay motivated to adhere to their treatment while reaping the benefits of convenient, passive monitoring.
The growing decentralization of care comes with an evolution of our human connection as patients and providers. There’s a natural learning curve of understanding these new dynamics and preferences for both patients and providers. While some may be eager to engage virtually, others may be hesitant or prefer in-person visits. Providers will need to increasingly meet patients where they are and tailor approaches to match how and when a patient wishes to receive care. This shift is best supported by provider access to a longitudinal view of a patient’s holistic health, powered by a reliable informatics backbone that supports confident decision-making and collaboration. The result for patients is that they are seeing the providers at the right points along their care journey.
By coming to each conversation, be it virtually or in person, with a full picture of a patient’s interactions with healthcare’s growing access points, healthcare providers can improve both patient engagement and clinical confidence and importantly, help support an improved clinician and patient experience.
Deploying interoperable, secure solutions
While this advanced view of acute and chronic care is on the horizon, organizations need robust data-sharing infrastructures and a standard for technologies to work together across platforms and locations to be successful. The Future Health Index 2021 report found that two of the biggest barriers to the adoption of digital health technologies were difficulties with data management (44%) and lack of interoperability and data standards across technology platforms (37%). The future of virtual care depends on secure, vendor-agnostic, well-integrated solutions, turning disparate data into actionable insights.
Further, organizations need to ensure they have the right infrastructures in place to protect the continuous flow of data or risk critical gaps in patient care or even security breaches. Leveraging open APIs and approved standards like IHE-HL7 can help facilitate data exchange across multiple sources and vendors across the continuum of care so healthcare providers can deliver the right care at the right time with minimal friction. By ensuring that technologies are interoperable across platforms and geographic locations, healthcare systems can better protect the data that flows throughout their system and provide increased security against malicious attacks. Health systems need a partner who takes a proactive approach to protecting sensitive health information across devices, systems and settings so administrators, healthcare providers and patients have confidence about how care is delivered.
Integrated, secure systems are particularly important in ICU settings. For example, without a strong backbone for smooth data integration, intensivists and clinicians can only see what is happening in front of them instead of making informed decisions based on a holistic view of a patient’s health. Remote care for patients in the ICU, known as tele-ICUs, relies on continuous data capture, advanced data visualization and predictive analytics to enable proactive rather than reactive care, and to help detect patient deterioration trends faster.
The power of interoperable solutions is so much more than improving the quantity of data – it’s also about data quality to feed future innovation. By breaking down walls to siloed data and aggregating that data into lakes of actionable patient insights, doors to further innovation – such as artificial intelligence – can be opened up to help advance more confident clinical decision-making.
A health system built to be truly interoperable and secure is a health system that supports and secures a patient’s seamless journey across healthcare settings – and it’s one that can evolve to meet the changing needs of tomorrow.
Supporting scalability through digital health platforms
A critical piece of the puzzle is allowing health systems the flexibility to implement and explore virtual tools in a stepwise fashion. That’s why healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to cloud-based, scalable solutions that not only enable faster and easier adoption of new capabilities, but also create a transparent total cost of ownership.
Virtual care strategies can’t be a bandage on top of existing or new piecemeal solutions that work in siloes. To be successful, providers need to look toward a platform approach that connects care across settings and is equipped with purpose-built applications that fit their unique needs. Cloud platforms not only allow faster innovations but also reduce the demand for IT maintenance, standardize service levels and usage, and allow providers to quickly scale according to need. With the embedded intelligence, providers can get improved clinical decision support.
In the same vein, we’ve seen software-as-a-service models, such as enterprise monitoring, a predictable, consumption-based model that standardizes hospital enterprises' monitoring technology and delivers the clinical and technical services needed to improve their performance and outcomes, grow in popularity. These models can standardize and scale patient monitoring in a cost-effective manner – which was particularly critical during COVID-19.
Virtual care is here to stay, but we have work to do
Virtual care use skyrocketed during COVID-19 out of need, but these new solutions can be so much more than quick fixes. Making space for an entirely new way of delivering care is a complex problem. The solution lies in intelligent informatics that extend care beyond the walls of the hospital, ensuring the smooth and secure transfer of data, and equipping organizations with scalable, connected ecosystems. Virtual care is here to stay, but it will take concerted efforts to re-deploy these solutions as care delivery models to improve care coordination for patients.
For more information on Philips’ solutions that will be showcased at the virtual HIMSS European conference, visit: https://www.philips.com/himss and follow @PhilipsLiveFrom for updates. For continued conversations around Philips’ innovation in health informatics, join us virtually or in-person at HIMSS Global taking place August 9-13, 2021 in Las Vegas, NV, USA.
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Roy Jakobs is Executive Vice President and Chief Business Leader for the Connected Care businesses of Royal Philips, effective January 28, 2020. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of Royal Philips. Connected Care comprises the Connected Care Informatics, Monitoring & Analytics, Population Health Management, Sleep & Respiratory Care and Therapeutic Care businesses. Prior to this, Roy led Philips’ Personal Health businesses.