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COVID-19 outbreak has forced hospitals, clinics and labs to implement new triage, testing and treatment processes

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Many IT deployments amongst healthcare facilities have been seamless either because of the existing foundational system components that just needed some assistance, or the organisations have opted to deploy proven technology solutions that are easily configured and secured to healthcare’s strict standards, informs Deep Agarwal, Regional Sales Director – Indian Sub-Continent, Zebra Technologies, Asia Pacific to Akanki Sharma

What is Zebra Technologies’ contribution towards combating COVID-19, and how are the company’s technologies supporting medical practitioners in India to fight against this epidemic? State some examples.

We have launched COVID-19Heroes microsite to recognise the efforts of frontline workers and shared information on how Zebra’s technology can enable them at work.

In a nod to healthcare professionals, we recently rolled out a new competition for nurses and nursing students, encouraging them to submit their ideas on how technology can help solve some of today’s biggest healthcare challenges. Five winning submissions will be selected based on the criteria, including an innovative approach and the applicability of the solution in today’s healthcare environment. Each of the five winners will receive a scholarship worth Rs 75, 500.

With a focus on priority areas like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), healthcare and education, Zebra is helping to improve the local communities where we live and work by contributing our time and resources.

What technology can be used to reduce testing errors for COVID-19 amidst high-volume demands? Does Zebra have anything specific to do in this regard?

An infection outbreak increases laboratory staff’s workload with huge volumes of specimens to test while under pressure to get results as fast as possible with no room for errors. Specimen identification errors can impact patients by delaying treatment or misdirecting treatment options, which ultimately adds more burden to the healthcare system, as infection rates continue to rise. Additionally, lab errors can result in unnecessary costs for the healthcare facility and even damage its reputation.

Barcode and RFID technologies have become proven solutions for labs to boost specimen identification efficiency by automating data entry and reducing specimen identification error rates. A retrospective study revealed that barcode scanning and one-on-one specimen collection education resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in specimen identification errors.

Besides identification purposes, barcode and RFID technologies, other technologies like scanners, label printers, hand-held mobile computers and software, play a critical diagnostic role for labs during an infection outbreak in several ways. This includes capturing specimen data efficiently and accurately, enhancing patient safety, maximising workflow efficiency and minimising cost.

Medical facilities are being built around the world at the moment to accommodate the current and anticipated patient influx. How can Zebra’s technologies help tackle that?

Currently, medical facilities around the world are overwhelmed with an influx of patients, especially in the hardly-hit countries, causing a huge burden on their hospitals and healthcare facilities.

One of the most prevalent ways is the construction of mobile hospitals that can either serve as critical-care isolation units for COVID-19 patients or alternative care sites for non-COVID-19 patients. These alternative care facilities increase bed capacity and help alleviate the pressures on intensive care and emergency room facilities in traditional hospitals. These typically offer only the essential services needed to combat an infection outbreak, with fast-paced and hectic environments that can lead to increased errors in patient identification and treatments. Amid these challenges, however, healthcare workers can continue to provide quality patient care if they are equipped with the right technology tools which will enable them in:

  • Capturing patient data quickly and accurately: Operational efficiency is a critical aspect of alternative care facilities. Scanning patient barcode wristbands helps ensure efficient and reliable data capture that can aid diagnosis and treatment accuracy. Using scanners or hand-held mobile computers, healthcare staff can quickly verify patient information while eliminating manual, key entry into devices to help accelerate workflows, reduce data errors and minimise physical contact of any potentially-contaminated surfaces.
  • Enhancing patient safety: By eliminating the need for multiple data entries, barcode wristband printing and scanning can help reduce errors in patient identification and medication administration. More than 30 per cent of medication errors occur during medication administration. Barcode medication administration at the patient bedside enables staff to verify vital clinical data, enhance patient safety and reduce medication errors by as much as 41 per cent.
  • Maximising workflow efficiency: The high volume of patients in an alternative care facility puts heavy wear and tear on critical devices and supplies.
  • Durability features are essential: Charging cradles and long-lasting batteries with hot-swappable battery power; ruggedised drop ratings; disinfectant-ready plastic; and quality-assured specimen labels and patient barcode wristbands, along with devices for 24/7 always-on use can help maintain workflow efficiency and minimise costs caused by bottlenecks and downtimes.

Further, during an infection outbreak, drive-through testing centres are invaluable for healthcare facilities. These allow workers to collect specimen samples from patients at high volumes and can contribute to reducing infection rates and ending the outbreak. In establishing a drive-through testing centre, safety is a top priority to prevent infection rates from rising. Workflows must be optimised to enable positive patient identification and proper specimen collection, testing and reporting. The end-to-end process must go as smoothly as possible to reduce long waiting times. All the ‘above-mentioned’ can be applied at these centres.

What are the new trends that will emerge in the healthcare technology space post-COVID-19? How can the healthcare system be prepared for such an emergency in future?

The impact of COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call for pharmaceutical and healthcare leaders to embrace new and innovative technologies, not only to operate in the post-COVID era but also be future-ready to deal with similar unforeseen crises in the future. From using data to better understand patient preferences and delivering a personalized experience based on that data to securely deliver medical information and mastering digital technologies can help organisations shape the next generation of healthcare.

Though we cannot predict the future, we can learn from experience and better adapt to mitigate future challenges and improve care capabilities (without compromising safety or privacy standards) if we have the right systems in place.

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many hospitals, clinics and labs to implement new triage, testing and treatment processes, many of which have required the fast implementation of novel mobile computing, scanning and printing applications. Moreover, many of these deployments have been seamless because healthcare facilities either already had the foundational system components in place and just needed some assistance to scale, or opted to deploy proven technology solutions in healthcare environments that are easily configured and secured to healthcare’s strict standards.

Healthcare systems need time to upgrade and improve. Hence, there is a need to start investing in healthcare-grade technology solutions that allow them to digitalise workflows, adapt processes, implement new policies, increase data accessibility and quickly scale operations up or down as needed.

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