Despite the chaos, there are some silver linings resulting from the novel coronavirus. The first one is the normalization and rapid deployment of telehealth which up until this point has had a slow adoption rate among healthcare providers. The second is the possibility of remote work for many healthcare system employees. What has made both these silver linings possible is having the right IT infrastructure in place.
“As a global pandemic puts clinicians to the ultimate test, healthcare IT teams also face numerous related challenges to ensuring business continuity and patient care,” explained Kevin Joy for HealthTech Magazine. “Among their critical tasks: addressing a surge in telehealth demand, equipping outdoor tents and screening stations, and provisioning devices for thousands of employees to work safely from home via virtual networks.”
Under the direction of hospital CIOs, healthcare IT teams are implementing telework capabilities for a variety of roles across their organizations. Geisinger Health System is one of these organizations and according to John Kravitz, the company’s chief information officer, they’ve been able to quickly deploy the infrastructure needed for remote capabilities to support chatbots, tracking tools, and other solutions to help frontline employees manage and triage care levels.
In addition to developing digital triage services, Geisinger’s team onboarded physicians across the organization to virtual care settings. Some of these physicians, including radiologists, need specific, and significant, technological solutions including high internet bandwidth and voice-to-text capabilities among other resources.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this,” explained Kravitz for FierceHealthcare. “You get things done [when planned] on the fly. We’re providing resources to solve problems [and] we have a fabulous IT team here at Geisinger. I can’t believe what we’re doing.”
For Monument Health, serving western South Dakota as well as parts of Wyoming and Nebraska, the key to a successful remotely deployed hospital staff includes secure and easily accessible virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). In partnership with NetApp, a cloud data services company, the health system was able to reinvent its foundational infrastructure, on which remote capabilities are deployed, to manage clinical applications. The organization’s upgraded infrastructure now grants access to patient data via single platform management with built-in security for work-from-home applications.
“In searching for new and innovative ways to provide patient care amid COVID-19, healthcare organizations are recognizing the importance of provider protection,” explained Lisa Hines, MBA, former director of telehealth for the Greenville Health System, and now strategic advisor for healthcare at NetApp. “Work-at-home solutions for health systems are critical and, in order for successful deployment, must be built on a foundation of accessibility and elasticity with scale on demand.”
Another organization leveraging remote work includes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) which operates 40 hospitals and roughly 700 clinical locations including doctor’s offices and outpatient sites. For UPMC’s Chief Medical Information Officer, Robert Bart, M.D., the move to remote was essential considering many of the organization’s providers need to be quarantined either to stay healthy or because they tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition to using remote capabilities to fuel patient-facing services, UPMC is putting the organization’s infrastructure and advanced teleworking solutions to work by helping other health systems including New York Presbyterian Hospital where there was a surge in COVID-19 cases. UPMC was able to receive emergency certification to access and read New York Presbyterian Hospital’s patient records and now, the two hospitals are working side-by-side thanks to remote capabilities.
Recognizing all the work that’s being done to care for patients while keeping physicians safe, one thing is certain – without the right infrastructure in place remote capabilities and successful virtual care, demonstrated by organizations including Geisinger Health System, Monument Health, and UPMC, aren’t possible.
“Health systems need to upgrade their infrastructure so that it helps to streamline the healthcare ecosystem for delivery of care and accommodates increasing capacity,” explained industry expert and healthcare CIO, David Chou. “Organizations that do not have a SD-Wan strategy should start exploring one now. We also must not forget about the importance of security and how critical it is for healthcare organizations to have secure and protected infrastructure as concurrent connections increase during today’s public health crisis.”
Looking at the future, the impacts of COVID-19 are far from over. In combating the novel coronavirus moving forward, health systems must follow in the footsteps of organizations including Geisinger Health System, Monument Health, and UPMC to implement remote solutions that keep patients and hospital staff safe while providing the care needed. This means that the teams behind these remote solutions – healthcare IT teams – are the real behind-the-scenes heroes combating COVID-19.
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