Friday October 30, 2020

Smoothing the healthcare journey into the future

New technologies are transforming healthcare well beyond diagnostics, and there’s more to come

17th October, 2020
John McCabe, managing director of managed IT services provider Damovo Ireland

MedTech is one of the most exciting frontiers of healthcare IT at the moment, primarily in the diagnostic field – but there’s more to health than doctors and nurses.

Hospitals and GPs’ surgeries involve large teams of people, all supporting the mission of delivering to patients. What if, at every stage, from administration to walking the wards, IT could be deployed to iron out the kinks?

It’s no small question, said John McCabe, managing director of managed IT services provider Damovo Ireland. Here and now, hiccups are resulting in sub-par healthcare outcomes, but the right technology can solve the problem.

Damovo already works with a large selection of healthcare clients across Ireland and Europe, delivering unified communications (UC) solutions that are enabling them to connect their people, processes and systems.

“Automation of patient appointment systems would make a huge difference. Last year 50,000 appointments were missed in Cork alone. The automation of this process would free up more resources for both the patients and the hospitals,” he said.

The technology is already there, McCabe said, but coherent, business-led use-cases need to be identified.

“The industry has to really look at what they need. The technology cannot drive the business case.”

McCabe said that healthcare organisations should look at the requirements coming from across the different interest groups, from clinical staff, patients, admin, to researchers and temporary staff – and combine this with an analysis of how they currently deliver their services.

Taking a methodical approach not only ensures that the technology is deployed for the right reasons, but also avoids the real risk faced by many large IT projects: failure.

“Examine the processes – how can they be streamlined and automated; consider the network [and] security elements. The point is to develop a roll-out plan that is gradual and won’t affect service levels,” said McCabe.

Forcing change

As the realisation dawns on all of us that the novel coronavirus pandemic will drag on well into 2021, some subtle changes have been noticeable.

On the negative side, of course, is fatigue, with people tiring of yo-yoing restrictions with no end in sight. On the positive side, however, medics have been clear: routine medicine cannot be allowed to stop.

Unlike in March, when hospitals were effectively prepped for Covid-19 patient treatment alone, hospital and GP appointments are now, where possible, going ahead.

McCabe said that upgrade programmes should also continue.

“Pre-Covid most hospitals in Ireland were making steps towards digitisation, but they were small. The reality is that old buildings, complex structures, budgetary constraints, and the pressure to deliver an ongoing level of care prevented most from making significant steps forward,” he said.

The reality of the situation is complex, of course, and with the pandemic continuing, IT is key to ensuring health services can be effectively delivered. In some cases, it will represent an improvement.

“Like most industries the pandemic has forced change. More and more consultations are taking place over the phone or video. The notion of waiting in the surgery for an hour to be seen by a doctor is starting to be a distant memory.

“Now you can speak to a doctor and have a prescription sent to your local pharmacy well within the time it would take to drive to the surgery and find a parking space. Many people will not want to return to the old model again if they don’t need to actually see a doctor in person,” he said.

However, there remains a long way to go.

“The approach is still very disjointed. Although there is some digitisation it is still very slow – and not seamless. Doctors and healthcare workers still have to follow a lot of time-consuming paperwork trails. There are many possibilities for automation to reduce the amount of admin across the healthcare industry,” said McCabe.

“The centralisation of patient records could ensure fewer mistakes are made. This, coupled with the utilisation of some of the digitisation technologies that are available today could really make a difference to the overall experience for everyone in the healthcare sector – ensuring better outcomes and less stress all round.”

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