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The impact of COVID-19 on healthcare environments and care delivery

The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionised the healthcare industry by forcing providers to innovate in myriad ways to overcome staff shortages, social distancing requirements, and lockdowns. As COVID-19 becomes endemic rather than a pandemic, the healthcare industry must continue to transform. Although this immediate threat may recede, the industry will face many ongoing challenges. Preparing for these challenges requires healthcare organisations to adopt productivity-boosting technology that’s fit for purpose.

COVID-19 was the catalyst for long-awaited change in the healthcare industry. Technology offered a solution for driving productivity gains with a shrinking workforce and unlocking data that was shackled to legacy systems and geographic locations. To cope with ongoing challenges around COVID-19 and other potential events, healthcare organisations must now review their communication and data management technology sooner rather than later.

Some of the ongoing issues facing healthcare organisations include staff shortages, with the federal government predicting a shortfall of approximately 85,000 nurses by 2025 and 123,000 nurses by 2030. Of the staff who remain, burnout is an ongoing issue as healthcare practitioners continue to do more with less in the face of ever-expanding compliance requirements. Add to this an ageing population and an increased workload as deferred treatments are rescheduled, and it becomes clear that healthcare providers could quickly become overwhelmed.

The industry is also faced with limited federal budget support for a fatigued industry. Organisations will have to rely on labour productivity gains rather than workforce expansion to meet demand growth.

Meanwhile, fractured and fragmented communications with faxes, memos, emails, voicemails, telephone calls and multiple forms completed online and offline leave information in isolated silos. In an industry where any delay in finding the right information could have a human cost, finding the right data fast is vital.

During the pandemic, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders created new barriers to accessing healthcare, resulting in changes in service delivery and utilisation globally. With restricted access to traditional healthcare institutions, the model had to change; ‘care anywhere’ had to become a reality. Consequently, the adoption and acceptance of digitisation is finally underway.

COVID-19 brought healthcare into the digital age. As hospitals became less appealing due to access issues and contagion risk, care delivery had to be re-imagined. Instead of being treated in a traditional medical environment, ‘care in the community’ was no longer a luxury; it became necessary.

Technology innovation is the only way to support the new leaner workforce and deliver information to support high-quality patient care both inside and outside the hospital cubicle.

Digitising information and creating streamlined workflows that are accessible across geographies and medical disciplines delivers efficient and effective work processes that can deliver patient care where needed.

When clinicians and other healthcare workers can access a single point of truth for patient data, they can deliver higher-quality patient care. On the backend, real-time access to rosters, schedules, staff locations, and high-quality workflow design can help streamline processes. This reduces the frustration of manually collating disparate, out-of-date data and subjecting patients to repeated questions about their care history and ailments.

The ongoing transformation of healthcare is vital to the ongoing health of the industry. There is an increased appetite for more patient-centred and personalised care, as well as an ongoing need for virtual care. This opens up opportunities to use new and emerging technologies to support innovative methods of healthcare delivery.

For example, artificial intelligence plays a role in research, rehabilitation, and physical therapy, supporting those with long-term conditions. It can also be used to manage surgery either alone or to support a human surgeon.

Meanwhile, wearable, hands-free smart badges have already sped up staff response times and enhanced patient care in two Sydney hospitals.

As organisations and individuals tentatively embrace 5G connectivity—which is set to dramatically increase network speeds and make new technologies easier to access—there’s no doubt that the interconnectivity of the Internet of Things will also have a major impact on the speed and security of data transmission as healthcare’s smart devices integrate into smart city infrastructure.

COVID-19 has forced the healthcare sector to innovate its way out of a critical situation. Embracing technology to deliver a safe, secure, efficient, and effective healthcare ecosystem will ease pressure on a shrinking workforce and deliver on the ultimate goal of improved patient care. While the immediate threat of the pandemic may have receded, healthcare organisations must keep up the momentum to effectively address ongoing and varied challenges.

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