Repurposing technology to aid patients and support care staff

Continuing to benefit from how the COVID-19 pandemic forced quick adaptation of technology to help patients communicate, draw in family support and ease workers’ burdens.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many existing conflicting pressures within hospitals. Perhaps nothing was as obvious as the needs of patients and the lack of bandwidth for clinical staff to meet those needs. 

Particularly for those patients infected with COVID, isolation was a necessary evil, but that separated them from the presence and support of friends and family. Nurses – already stretched thin with staff shortages, sickness, heavy patient loads and protective equipment protocols – tried to fill in the gap by enabling connections via smartphones and tablet devices. 

It was a job they didn’t need, and in some cases, technology companies began to expand solutions to fill the void, enabling easy connections between patients and their family members. 

It’s just one example of how the pandemic has expanded providers’ vision of using technology to achieve multiple purposes. The forces unleashed by the pandemic demonstrate the need to continue to use technology to meet patients’ growing needs and demands for engagement with care. 

I recently sat down with Scott King, the chief technology officer for eVideon Health for a follow up discussion to their education session with Tampa General Hospital, featured in our recent Patient Experience virtual education program.  

He shared that providers’ suggestions have helped accelerate creative uses of technology.   

Applying technology to meet a variety of needs

Providers’ requests for technology adaptations exploded during the pandemic, King recalls. “It was a kind of a crucible that was created by staff who were really overtaxed. You had patients being in beds alone without family members there, without loved ones to be able to give them support – patients in beds who have nothing but time on their hands. And you have staff who are trying to serve them who have no time at all.” 

While nurses tried to fill in the gaps by using hastily configured personal devices to make connections, they often were thrust into roles dealing with technology for which they had neither the time nor expertise. 

Supplying a patient-family interface can be a poster child for other ways connective communication technology could assist front-line caregivers, King notes. “I think it just puts a spotlight on what are the technologies that we can implement right now during this pandemic that can really help improve these communication workflows and (enable clinicians) to be in more than one place at one time.” 

“There have been other [information flow] problems that have been spotlighted [during the pandemic]."

This renewed focus on using technology to surround patient care also is now viewed as helping provider organizations to better capitalize on their investments on electronic records systems and other digital technology, King contends. Integration of various systems and feeds of information remains an issue in healthcare organizations, he adds.  

“There have been other [information flow] problems that have been spotlighted [during the pandemic]. They existed prior, but now they’re really coming to the fore. For example, just the ‘siloing’ of different technologies, the inability of so many different systems [to share data] or the complication of trying to integrate so many different systems in our hospitals together.” 

Technology solutions such as those from eVideon can address challenges that include optimizing clinicians’ time and scope, as well as enabling better integration of critical clinical data into care delivery. 

For example, the ability to have a screen and camera in every room enables nurses to monitor patients without having to physically enter a room – that’s a boon for COVID care, which requires clinicians to don PPE when they enter rooms of patients being treated for complications of the infectious coronavirus. 

The technology also enables patients to interact, performing such basic functions as changing the channel of the TV, adjusting the temperature of the room or requesting assistance from staff. But that in-room technology can adjust to the situation – for example, if a patient codes, it can lower the temperature of the room and flash critical patient vital signs on the TV screen to better communicate data to emergency staff, King notes. 

“It's a matter of taking the information that's critical and just making it smarter, like having it appear at the right time in the right place.” 

Wide use of video technology within patients’ rooms also enables more people to be virtually “present for key consultations. For example, the system enables specialists to consult without having to be physically present in the room, or it can patch in family members or translators who can communicate information in the patient’s language. 

Its technology also can provide an “electronic whiteboard” role outside of patients’ rooms, communicating a range of patient information that can be updated from the electronic medical record – for example, it can detail a patient’s medications, schedule for imaging or other tests, and whether those entering the room need to wear PPE. 

In addition, a real-time locating system (RTLS) can be used to determine which clinicians have entered a patient’s room, helping to better communicate who has been involved in direct care. 

Technology needs to become immersive in communicating information to nurses and other care support personnel – it can help achieve seemingly small incremental time gains in care for each patient, but that can have a significant impact when those gains are multiplied across a large organization operating thousands of beds, King contends. 

“it's a matter of taking the information that's critical and just making it smarter, like having it appear at the right time in the right place,” he says. 

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