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COVID-19: Driving an interoperability mindset

COVID-19: Driving an interoperability mindset

In the months since COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, hospitals and health systems have been experiencing unprecedented surges of care. But while hospitals have seen a swell of patients coming in for COVID-19-related care, they have also seen a wave of patients seek treatment from home via telehealth and more radiologists are evaluating scans remotely. The virus is changing where and how patients receive care, and as a result, its changing how hospitals and healthcare professionals work. As the flow of patients and clinical workflow has evolved, the flow of information has changed too.

CIOs and their teams have been facing a host of new sources around patient and operational data. Protocols are changing and being implemented, patients are being asked to provide more information related to the virus, and with each question and new protocol, there is an ebb and flow of data behind it that needs to be properly managed. This reality has forced CIOs at hospitals of all sizes to improvise and implement new technologies at rates that were previously unfathomable. More than ever before, IT teams need to manage a diversity of networks, equipment and security, all while adhering to PHI regulations. It’s a tall order.

So, how do we manage patient and provider workflows – and the data associated with them – across a variety of locations to help deliver the right care at the right time? It’s here that interoperability has shown its true value. 

Shifting our mindset

Interoperability - the goal of being able to access the right data at the right time to deliver quality care - should be a mindset, but it’s one that health systems have struggled with for years. Yet, as soon as COVID-19 spread around the world, that mindset became more front and center for many healthcare professionals. No longer is interoperability viewed as a “nice to have”; it’s now a “must have” for the future of patient management and care.

COVID-19 has exposed the severe consequences that a lack of data sharing and data visibility can have during a public health crisis. To a degree, if hospitals do not have a clear view of the patient population that they are managing, they are operating blind. This lack of visibility can immediately impact patient safety and puts unnecessary pressure on critical financial and operational resources. During public health emergencies, losing time is not an option. And now, this is a risk that hospitals are not willing to take. 

Providers are faced with immediate needs: whether it be access to an ICU bed, or the capability to manage referrals and transfers without bogging down their workflow. Normally, healthcare follows protocols, but today we’re seeing more improvisation along with greater flexibility because the need is much more urgent – and it’s a culture shock for many health systems. These realities have spurred the move to achieving interoperability.

Breaking barriers and gaining understanding

Interoperability can help hospitals not only share data, but achieve a greater understanding of what’s going on operationally. It’s a critical capability to managing patient surges – both in and out of the hospital. Staff can have better clarity on equipment use and availability, in addition to open beds. Seamless access to data helps control patient flow, planning and capacity – enabling hospitals to return to some state of normalcy.

By breaking down the barriers in between health systems, interoperability allows the accurate management of patient and provider workflows. One of the most important aspects of interoperability is around patient information. When solutions are interoperable there is no need for hospitals to guard patient data. They have the ability to share this data with other care providers and with patients themselves – a critical step in providing patient-centric care.

Philips Interoperability Healthcare Information Exchange allows for the secure electronic exchange of health information, whether the patient is at home seeking care via telehealth or in the hospital. All individuals, their loved ones, and their healthcare providers can have appropriate access to health information that facilitates informed decision-making, supports coordinated health management, allows patients to be active partners in their care, and at the end of the day, improves the overall health of our population. 

When thinking about the next generation of healthcare products and services, interoperability will be non-negotiable feature. The new workflows and new ways of working that we have seen implemented so quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a new emphasis on how healthcare professionals need the right data to improve care.

A change for the better

It’s important to recognize that interoperability is not the end goal in itself, it’s a means to achieving truly connected care that is centered around the patient. The focus and importance is now on the coordination of care through supporting workflows and achieving a holistic view of an entire healthcare system with data that’s easily shared, no matter where the patient is receiving care. It’s about ensuring that the right person gets access to the right data, at the right time, at the right place regardless of location, device or context.

When it comes to COVID-19, healthcare organizations around the world know that they are only going to win this fight if they breakdown the walls and help each other. And only then will we see that having an interoperability mindset will have fundamentally changed the way providers access data, changing care for the better. 

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