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COVID-19 may fundamentally challenge the culture of organisations

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Over the years, GAIA has closely worked with hospitals across key cities like Raipur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Patna, by deploying solutions for workforce management and patient-experience management. Amrita Chowdhury, Director and Co-founder, Gaia gives details to Prabhat Prakash on how IOT, digital, and AI based solutions can be embedded into hospital operations and processes to create digitalisation and cognitive process automation

Since the spread of COVID-19 pandemic there has been a lot of adaptation of newer technologies by the healthcare industry. What are the opportunities, challenges, demands currently that the industry needs to work upon?

The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the healthcare system not only in India but worldwide. The unabated crisis has led to huge demand from the existing infrastructure which has further exposed vulnerabilities of the healthcare and pharmaceutical supply chains. There is a huge demand and supply gap for healthcare facilities and increasing demand for health care workers threatens to leave some health systems overstretched and unable to operate effectively.

COVID-19 is set to impact healthcare delivery in critical ways across:

(a) Inventory and supply chain management

(b) Optimisation of resources, staff, and assets

(c) Hyper-local delivery of services

(d) Safety and sanitisation of healthcare delivery

The immediate aftermath of COVID-19pandemic threw healthcare supply chains in disarray. Countries around the world realised that they were reliant on global supply chains for critical medicines, equipment, and supplies. Furthermore, healthcare providers realised that they need to manage critical resources efficiently at national, city, and healthcare facility levels. Inside facilities, staff and resources need to be optimised in real time to ensure the right care is given at the right time to patients. Furthermore, the need for localised access to healthcare services is becoming attractive to patients. There is acute awareness amid service providers and patients that safe practices and spaces are critical.

COVID-19 may fundamentally challenge the culture of organisations – how we distribute work and deploy workforce, and how we engage our people and our customers. In the longer term, this situation may present an opportunity to think about how we elevate communications, create a more resilient workforce, build more focus on health and well-being, and enable critical trust and engagement between the business and its customers.

 What are the barriers hindering the adaptation of revolutionary technologies in healthcare? How is the volatile scenario affecting healthcare delivery?

 Healthcare delivery has relied on manual human-aided orchestration of services and staff to manage healthcare operations and patient care. The biggest barrier to adoption is mindsets and change management, rather than technological. Today, technologies are seamlessly integrated, easy to deploy, and driven by value-conscious principles. Hospitals and healthcare providers need to consider longer term efficiency impact to aid decision-making and leverage management driven vision to ensure change management, adoption, and capability building at every level within the organisation.  Hospitals need to ensure they implement systems, solutions, and dashboards that will enable them to meet the changing patient requirements and comfort with digital systems.

The traditional barriers to entry and slow adoption of technologies has been driven by cost consciousness and the need to define the business case and return on investment on technology spend. Healthcare delivery has remained high-touch, high-complexity, and hence largely manual. Today’s volatile scenario has multiple competing factors. At one end, healthcare revenues are at risk as non-Corona and non-critical patients continue to stay away from healthcare practices and hospitals. On the other hand, the medical and non-medical staff and supplies need to be critically optimised, and higher levels of health safety and sanitation maintained with fewer staff. While budgets may be constrained, healthcare service providers may need to adopt technology quickly to ensure seamless, safe, and optimised delivery of quality care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to newer technologies for healthcare delivery. What does the healthcare industry as a whole need to do to keep patient data secure, avoid phishing and data theft?

Today, technologies such as tokenisation or secure blockchain based distributed ledger systems can be created to ensure patient data safety, privacy and anonymity. Data sharing across providers is still not a reality globally. Patient record systems continue to remain provider or facility specific. However, distributed ledger systems may pave the way for shared medical records systems that may be interoperable and go across providers. In the global scenario, patient record systems today can be common across a hospital network or an insurance provider, but may not be sharable outside the closed ecosystem. This may change in the future. Data security concerns will be paramount, since this data will necessarily be on the cloud to enable interoperability and shareability.

However, hospitals also may have a lot of operational and transactional data, generated from IOT, digital, and AI solutions for impacting the non-clinical process flows, staff, and assets. It is equally important to protect this data, but this may not have the additional concerns of privacy and shareability. Companies can deploy solutions that collect customer feedback from IOT and digital channels and provide an integrated real-time view of customer experience. While using tools such as Big Data and Machine Learning led cloud analytics will provide systemic insights into business performance.

What are the challenges faced by the healthcare industry hindering its growth, what is the silver lining to this and how can the industry overcome them? How can the industry capitalise on the opportunities and enhance healthcare delivery, patient experiences?

 Globally healthcare costs are extremely high, whereas in India healthcare delivery is largely fragmented, with institutional quality of care available across low cost- low care to high cost-high care options. In India, especially, one of the recent transformations in medical teaching has been the inclusion of courses on medical ethics, information technology, and activity based learning. While it will be a few years before these next generation of medical students become practitioners, there has been a focus on patient centricity in larger hospitals. This has a few technology implications.

Firstly, hospitals are starting to collect patient feedback at every stage of the care journey. Secondly, technology is being used to digitalise, automate and make frictionless the pre and post care of patients. In-patient services can be digitalised. Support services can use service orchestration technology. Reducing wait times, delays, or communication gaps will significantly improve patient experience. Thirdly, use of systems for managing patient flow and patient care enables hospitals to reduce errors or delays, and thus improve cost, efficiency, and experience metrics.

 In the current scenario where social distancing is of utmost importance how can organisations manage facilities to their potential without hampering output and productivity?

 Hospital infra and facilities are demanding greater focus on safety and sanitation measures. At the same time, hospitals are operating with fewer clinical and non-clinical staff to maintain social distancing. Hence, doing more with less creates a need for technology. IOT, digital, and AI based solutions can be embedded into hospital operations and processes to create digitalisation and cognitive process automation. Real time data and insights can be used to drive dynamic service orchestration to meet dynamic needs in a dynamic environment. These tools can greatly impact the productivity and performance of staff, assets, and spaces. In the long run, these tools are imperative to meet the shifting demand and cost patterns of healthcare delivery.

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