Written by: Samantha Higgins
In many parts of the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has breached the capacity of the healthcare system. Even before the pandemic, many inner-city and rural area hospitals were at capacity due to insufficient staffing and funding. Fortunately, the technology is available to help solve some of the hospital overflow problems plaguing the healthcare system. Here are five ways that high-tech solutions are helping with the deluge of seriously ill patients.
Healthcare providers are making use of telemedicine or telehealth visits for patient triage and prioritization, explains Healthcare IT News. Although there is little to no consistency in the platform used for telemedicine visits, most providers are part of a hospital or healthcare system network that has its own proprietary software or platform for conducting the virtual visits. This allows the patient and provider to interact through video and audio. The patient can describe their symptoms, show affected body parts and answer the provider’s questions. The provider can see the patient’s pupils, skin tone and alertness, which helps them determine symptom severity. If the provider feels that the person should go to the hospital, they can alert the ER staff that the patient is on their way. Telehealth visits reduce the exposure of primary care physicians, respiratory therapists and other healthcare professionals to people who are potentially infected with COVID-19.
The check-in process at a hospital has historically required an in-person interaction with at least two individuals. Having to meet with the front desk in the emergency department and the billing specialist could result in faster spread of COVID-19. Many hospitals are now turning to electronic check-ins. The person enters their name, insurance, and other pertinent details in an online form. The person can call when they are at the door of the hospital. A healthcare provider in proper personal protective equipment can lead them into the facility through a separate door. Eliminating as many in-person interactions as possible facilitates workflow and slows the spread of COVID-19.
Electronic Medical Records
Electronic medical records make it easier for hospitals and healthcare providers to see a patient’s medical history. It is known that COVID-19 causes more serious illness and complications in people who have kidney disease, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, and immune system disorders. By reviewing the electronic medical records of incoming patients, healthcare professionals can prioritize the care and treatment of those individuals. They can use those charts to determine which types of supplies and equipment they will need more of, such as ventilators or CPAP machines. Electronic health records software also facilitates the transmission of test results to local and state health departments. By automating this process, hospitals can reduce the administrative workload from the overflow of patients.
Data Modeling to Predict Capacity
Advanced data collection techniques are helping hospitals predict what their peak capacity will be. Each time a new patient is admitted, their data is added to the statistical model. Some hospitals are doing their own modeling, and others are working with universities, local or state health departments or private research firms in order to build the models and make the predictions. If a hospital has a quality model, it can make better plans about staffing, resources, equipment, and supplies. They can pass this information on to state authorities when asking for help with securing personal protective equipment, ventilators and other essential items that are needed for the care of critically ill patients.
Digital Monitoring of Chief Patient Complaints
Technology is also helping hospitals keep track of chief patient complaints. When a person arrives at the emergency department, the triage nurse asks the reason for their visit. If the person does an electronic check-in, they would enter this information either by typing an answer or selecting items from a drop-down list. When more people are arriving with COVID-19 symptoms, it helps hospitals plan where to allocate staff and resources.
Implementing low-tech solutions, such as social distancing and quarantining has helped reduce the number of patients seeking medical care for COVID-19. This flattening of the curve has given the healthcare system some time to prepare for the peak level of resource needs for desperately sick patients. With the technology available now and under development for short-term release, hospitals can have a better handle the influx of critically ill patients.