As the United States seems to be turning the corner on the COVID-19 crisis, many healthcare executives, especially information officers, are looking back on the experiences of facing major, sudden changes. Healthcare IT departments everywhere were forced to update and upgrade outdated legacy systems, implement new information-sharing initiatives, enhance remote patient engagement, and more challenges that came at a breakneck pace. Now, after 16 months of hard work and heartbreak, CIOs and other IT professionals can reflect on what works, what needs work, and how to use the lessons of the pandemic to improve everyday healthcare.
One great takeaway is an emphasis on the importance of data and data analysis in healthcare and the benefits of investing in and maintaining an up-to-date infrastructure. For many rural health systems, upgrading IT networks and implementing other new tech strategies was a low priority before the pandemic, while others that had already made necessary changes to their infrastructure were better prepared to navigate coronavirus-related data analysis. High-risk patient screenings, treatment strategies, and vaccine rollouts were made easier and more effective for the healthcare organizations who made strong IT investments ahead of the crisis, and healthcare IT leaders have been taking notes.
Another significant change that COVID-19 catalyzed is the need for enhanced patient engagement, notably through enhanced patient portals and rapid advancements in telehealth. During the early weeks and months of the pandemic, virtual health care was still in its infancy, especially widespread access. However, systems quickly found out that telehealth implementation could be done easily and relatively swiftly. In many instances, remote medical staff were equipped with headsets, webcams, and other technologies to deliver critical care during COVID restrictions, including individual and group therapy sessions. Now that the pandemic is in an apparent decline in the U.S., HIPAA-compliant platforms like Teladoc and Doctor On Demand are more popular than ever. Some reports expect the global telehealth market to continue growing at a rate of more than 30%.
Ultimately, the coronavirus crisis gave healthcare organizations the opportunity to assess their IT infrastructures’ capabilities and start making strategic plans for immediate and future improvements. Adaptability is as important as capability for CIOs and their IT workforce. Also, the crisis highlighted the need for streamlined and efficient decision-making from the top down. Healthcare systems experienced many bureaucratic roadblocks during the onset of the pandemic. Leaders were compelled to open the floor for fresh strategies to medical professionals, nurses, pharmacists, and operations directors alongside data analysts and other experts from the IT ecosystem. With hindsight and foresight working in tandem with efficient leadership, communication, and teamwork, healthcare CIOs can better help the most important factor of their cause: the well-being of their patients.