Digital technology today is playing a vital role at a critical juncture in healthcare. The sector is seeing digital capabilities come to the forefront to provide the means to deliver patient services in a time of incredibly high demand, manage an increasingly burdened workforce and keep abreast of rapidly changing information and data. As healthcare organizations experience the benefits of digital transformation in these areas at this challenging time, they must also be prepared to manage the risks transformation can bring.
Meeting the High Demand for Care
By enabling providers to consult with patients remotely, telemedicine addresses the high demand for services in the midst of a crisis and, at the same time, limits personal contact to help manage health risks. Telemedicine also makes it possible to scale the healthcare community’s response to the crisis, allowing first-line providers to direct patients with severe symptoms to emergency facilities, for example, while keeping those with mild symptoms under care at home. Even within medical facilities, caregivers can use telemedicine to engage with patients while limiting their own risk of becoming ill.
Managing Workforce Resources
When patients and providers can connect remotely, it’s faster and easier for healthcare organizations to respond to rapidly shifting workloads and workforce circumstances. A medical practice or inpatient system with multiple locations can use telemedicine to “move” clinicians from an area that’s experiencing low demand to one that’s overwhelmed, and then pivot when the level of demand changes again. In situations where large numbers of healthcare workers are sheltering in place, but aren’t ill, they can continue to provide patient care where it’s needed without putting others at risk, helping avoid shortages of workers when they’re needed most.
Staying Connected to Critical Information
Digital technology provides reliable and timely access to the latest information and data at a time when both are in constant flux. One example is Johns Hopkins University’s interactive map that was developed to serve as a resource in the current situation. The tool makes it possible to track cases as they develop and makes all data freely available through an online data repository. At a clinical level, digital connectivity gives clinicians the ability to access medical records and other patient information as needed to make informed decisions about care.
Addressing the Associated Digital Risks
The capabilities described all have the potential to introduce digital risk into healthcare organizations, and that risk must be managed to fully realize the benefits of digital transformation. Any capability that relies on digital channels of communication creates some exposure to cyber attack, and that risk is heightened in healthcare, where having healthcare systems shut down as the result of an attack would be disastrous. It could also lead to exposing patients’ protected health information (PHI) or other private data, including payment information. By implementing measures to help limit the risk, healthcare organizations can make the most of digital transformation, even in the most challenging of circumstances.