Recently, a metropolitan hospital system was assessing the impact of COVID-19 on its effectiveness in delivering care as well as on its business aspect. The patterns were pretty clear in terms of how healthcare had been delivered during the outbreak, and how it needs to change going forward to improve patient outcomes, for pandemic and nonpandemic health events.
They found that information sharing around changing patterns of effective treatment of the virus was difficult, considering the reactive thinking around patient care for most hospitals at times when the emergency centers were stressed. The sharing of information around evolution of treatments was more passive than it should have been.
They also noticed that patients with more traditional ailments, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer, pushed off seeking treatment due to fears of the virus or not being able to gain access to clinicians who were focused on coronavirus. This will obviously result in some increase in mortality beyond the pandemic.
Their third finding was that business fell off tremendously. Many states banned elective procedures, hospitals postponed many of them due to the pandemic, or patients feared having a procedure done at a hospital that was also treating COVID-19. In many healthcare systems this revenue is used to offset less profitable treatments and its lack has sent many hospital systems into the red quickly.
How can cloud computing help?
Information sharing is the topic that most providers want to tackle first. In the heat of a pandemic, sharing vital information about treatments and outcomes needs to be automated and proactive.
As systems monitor diagnostics, treatments, and outcomes, trends emerge as to effective therapeutics. That information needs to be available in real time to clinicians. Having the best information possible raises the likelihood of making effective and life-saving treatment recommendations.
Of course, cloud computing is the best platform to accomplish information sharing, with the ability to provision the data storage and integration needed. These can occur on centralized systems that drive a single or many healthcare systems, and can optimize sharing of data and abstract calculations of the data. Many healthcare systems are moving forward with this strategy and leveraging cloud computing as a force multiplier.
The other two issues can be solved using distribution of point-of-care providers. It no longer should be a requirement that most elective and nonelective procedures, diagnostics, and treatments, including major surgery, occur in hospitals.
Distribution of care is made possible by cloud-based medical information systems, including diagnostics systems, that are now ubiquitous. While the assumption is that the centralization of information, diagnostics, and treatment is a good thing, postpandemic we now understand that patients going to locations that are closer to their homes, with fewer humans, means fewer chances of infection. Moreover, the same or better standard of care will lead to better outcomes for traditional health issues, that in many cases are lost in the panic of a crisis.
The same approaches and technology apply to those needing elective procedures as well. As somebody who recently had a shoulder replaced, I realize that although it was “elective,” I was in unbearable pain. While we can point to cosmetic surgery as an elective procedure as well, most elective procedures solve problems that lower your quality of life quickly.
In essence, cloud-based systems, along with emerging bandwidth availability such as 5G, means that we no longer should face compromises in level of care. Indeed, telemedicine connected with distributed diagnostics centers and lower latency of diagnostics to treatments means that there will be a rise in survivability, and this should come at a reduced cost to payers and patients. The time to move in these directions is now.