Although the Netherlands has worked from home since March of last year, healthcare professionals worked overtime in ICUs and as bedside staff. As is often the case in this industry, healthcare heroes are going the extra mile when needed. No wonder Dutch society showed them well-deserved gratitude in the form of banners to thank the professional group for their service.
Directly following the first Corona wave, the effects became visible: healthcare institutions were faced with exhausted personnel. It was a logical consequence of the extremely high work pressure. Sadly enough, looking to the future gives reason to fear that this kind of strain, without any policy changes, will in time become the ‘new normal’. The numbers are relentless. Healthcare research bureau Gupta calculated a needed productivity increase of about 60% per healthcare professional, if the same number of medical staff would need to provide sufficient healthcare by 2040. Every day.
And, to paint an even darker picture, chances are that we might not even be able to maintain the current number of care workers. Already one out of seven healthcare job vacancies remain unfilled. This number is expected to rise to one out of four, and possibly within the next five years.
Better care with less people
Unfortunately, these figures aren’t new at all. About 15 years ago, the first ominous reports surfaced. Yet, the approaching scarcity syndrome didn’t seem to cause officials any sleepless nights until recently, as the reality of inevitable shortages dawned on CIOs of healthcare institutions, because society looks to them, more than ever, as the ones who may be able to solve the problem. The Dutch story character Tom Poes would say, “think up a ploy!”: innovate, digitalise, robotise, utilise AI – make sure clients are being cared for and provide even better care with less people.
Many chain partners
Berenschot calculated that, in total, 35% of medical personnel working hours is spent on administrative tasks. This development hasn’t been without cause. The healthcare sector is characterised by a large number of chain partners. The parties in the clinical stream, from general practitioners to pharmacies, from mental healthcare to hospitals and hospices, continuously share information with one another. But also logistically, many information streams are used to share data. All this is needed to provide what ‘we’ expect from our healthcare system: quality and efficiency. Personal attention for patients, as well as keeping production high as an organization. All with limited financial means. And with, as already stated, far too few personnel.
You may say, “Yes, I feel the same tension within my own company.” That is very possible. But we’re talking here, in some cases, about life and death. Aforementioned CIOs will realise what we all know; this battle isn’t going to be won by simply scaling up the number of co-workers. It will ultimately boil down to an effective implementation of technology.
Let’s revisit the 35% of administrative pressure on healthcare workers. If we want to keep our healthcare system running and even improve it, IT has to ensure that the available people will actually be occupied with primary care.
Corona has, besides bringing misery, also revealed that far-reaching digitisation and quick delivery of solutions are possible. I’m not talking about working from home here, as the majority of healthcare professionals will not be able to work from home.
The use of video calls with clients was already possible. Organizations offering healthcare at homes had already used this for quite some time. During the pandemic other (outpatient) consultations or operations were radically digitalised. Care professionals were often full of doubts, but the clients enjoyed teleconferencing. No more burdensome taxi drives just to measure blood pressure or saturation levels. In short, an improved client experience, lower costs, and less personnel on the road are now providing intramural corona care.
Furthermore, consultations by doctors or sessions with psychologists are made more efficient by using video conferencing techniques and can mostly be improved in quality. In these cases, information about the person requesting care needs to be shared safely. We call it, ‘overcoming the paper tiger’. This may be done by using P-a-a-S (Platform-as-a-Service) and data sharing by means of APIs.
Allow me to mention one more example which has impacted me particularly. Imagine, if you will, that you’ll have to undergo any kind of operation in a hospital, an intervention where outpatient treatment is unfortunately impossible. You present yourself at the registration desk where you’ll receive a punched card, wristband, or badge. Nervous as you are, you’re walking all over trying to find the right department counter and finally arrive at the designated room. If you were to experience the same in a hotel or while boarding an airplane, you would probably leave right away and not consider ever coming back. Unfortunately, this isn’t a choice in healthcare.
However, the quality experience at a hotel and especially during a flight, wasn’t a goal in itself. An improved client experience is just a welcome side effect, yet the organizations involved want to execute boarding (in a hotel or plane) with as few personnel as possible and as efficiently as possible. The same should be possible in a hospital.
Clients could be checking in the day ahead of their admission. They would preview what is going to happen during their stay. They could give their consent for the sharing of personal data. They could see their room and select upfront which meal they would prefer, just like on an airplane. This process is less strenuous for the client and lowers the workload within the organization. This method of safely digitalising, with the patient’s consent, is possible with a Platform-as-a-Service. Such a service helps to (inter)link the large number of healthcare information systems, including EHR and systems for apothecaries and general practitioners.
Video calls and onboarding are already examples of digital steps, without requiring new fundamental technological breakthroughs. The same applies, for example, to the launch of the corona check app. Something I’m especially proud of. Not so much because we’re offering the backbone for this solution, but especially because it proved possible to achieve results under extreme time pressure (we’re talking a development trajectory of five days!). That requires courage. Courage from both decision makers and budget keepers to quickly embrace new technology. I honestly hope that going forward, the urgency to transform remains tangible among healthcare organizations. Because the pressure is high, regardless of an ongoing pandemic.