“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” Brené Brown
Time and again, we have witnessed innovative ideas materialise as solutions in moments of acute crisis and vulnerability. World War I and II are classic examples of that, when several life-saving innovations sprung up to remedy the crisis. Typhoid and tetanus vaccines were developed during World War I, while the world’s first flu vaccine was developed during World War II. in addition to the development of Penicillin and perfection of blood transfusion. These innovations eventually ended up reshaping the world for the better.
And the COVID-19 pandemic was no different.
While it had a devastating impact on everyone and every sector, it put unprecedented pressure on healthcare and the entire medical community, which in turn affected the quality of healthcare delivery for patients. The sector grappled to sustainably help the increasing number of patients affected by the pandemic. Lack of resources, call of duty and at the same time, maintaining personal health safety were the three most common challenges faced by all those who directly handled patients in wards and ICUs across the globe.
But this is only one side of the picture. The massive challenge, on the other hand, created space for innovation in healthcare, and this time aided by technology. The pandemic managed to set a new context for the use of digital health solutions, with several digital healthcare companies coming forward to ensure timely and efficient delivery of healthcare. Sicker patients, non-availability of transport, lack of access to physical consultation accelerated the acceptance and implementation of digital healthcare solutions which not only helped millions access medical care amid a crisis but also improved patient safety. Here’s how:
Reducing Medication Errors
Writing down prescriptions on paper has always been the traditional ritual most medical professionals have followed. However, the pandemic forced them to change this practice and instead, embrace its digital alternatives, as a means to reduce pen and paper contact and transmission of infection. Most good healthcare players introduced software like EMRs (Electronic medical records), COW (computers on wheel-for wards and ICU rounds), CPOE (Computerised physician order entry) and HMIS (Hospital management information systems), to manage faster pharmacy operations, dispense digital prescriptions and medication with minimal human intervention and almost zero errors. The software is also equipped to instantly flag errors concerning correctness of prescription which includes the 10 rights of medication management namely-
- Right Drug
- Right Patient
- Right Dose
- Right Route
- Right Time & Frequency
- Right Documentation
- Right History & Assessment
- Drug approach & Right to Refuse
- Right Drug to Drug Interaction & Evaluation
- Right Education & Information
The introduction of medication software helped healthcare to gather vast research and audit data for improvement of clinical outcomes which further paved the direction for faster and better innovations and research in healthcare.
Automation in Remote Patient Monitoring
During the pandemic, unlike many who observed social distancing and limited to no physical interaction, the medical community instead had to be on the frontline, battling the healthcare crisis. In addition to the younger doctors who were facing the virus and the sick patients daily with full protective gear, the senior doctors, even those in the vulnerable age groups had to step in to give vital decisions in very critical patients. Their on-field experience and guidance was invaluable amid a crisis, however the risk to their lives was also imminent. At this point, digital healthcare solutions like remote assistance, emerged as a solution in the form of ‘Virtual rounds’.
Digitisation of hospitals further helped large-scale integration of data from bed-side inputs through the attached monitoring devices like the cardiac monitors, ventilators, syringe and infusion pumps, extra corporeal(ECMO) and heart assist devices(IABP) and other real-time gadgets. This helped doctors quickly understand the treads and effects of medications and clinical decisions, remotely.
From remote monitoring to online consultations, digital healthcare allowed doctors to provide quality healthcare to patients, from a safe distance, while keeping a tap on the ‘real time’ clinical outcome.
Large-scale Data Integration and Research
Usually, a vaccine takes more than 8 years to perfect, with its stages in clinical trials from 1 to 4 years. However, in the case of COVID-19 pandemic, the surmounting pressure on scientists and threat to humankind accelerated the discovery of the vaccine which ended up saving millions.
Additionally, the pandemic also saw an upsurgence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) assisted assessment, diagnosis and treatment protocol. The adoption of the Clinical Decision Support System (CDSS) by major healthcare companies across the globe helped millions of doctors to arrive at quicker and more accurate decision-making. Integrated into the OPD and IPD software assessment solution, CDSS gave prompts at every line item of clinical history, physical assessment, imaging, drug dosing, investigations and diagnosis including suggested treatment based on the current recommendations and guidelines(updated in the software) was made possible with the aid of AI. Video consultation helped doctors interact closely with patients, without being present in the same room. Large scale integration allowed e-ICU’s to keep a 24×7 tap on several smaller ICUs located in remote areas with timely support to intervene on patients who could become sicker and needed higher care and advanced interventions like extra corporeal support(ECMO).
Healthcare as an industry has been constantly evolving and embracing new technologies to address the challenges of the era. And at present, we are witnessing yet another evolution with digitisation. This has ushered in an era of democratisation in healthcare that is empowering the entire ecosystem of healthcare which includes patients, medical practitioners, researchers, digital healthcare companies, etc.
Thanks to this evolution and mass-acceptance of digital healthcare, our country is more equipped than ever before to ensure patient safety. This was made possible through collaboration and knowledge-sharing between all stakeholders in healthcare. The time is ripe to leverage this wave of innovation and bring transformation in the sector and as a country motivated to create a healthier population, we are optimistic about the future, where positive transformation of healthcare is not too far away.
In the words of Dr. Bertalan Meskó, Medical Futurist, genomics– ‘’Only digital health can bring healthcare into the 21st century and make patients the point-of-care’’.