The tech needed for more contactless hospitals, healthcare

Jackie Drees and Laura Dyrda - Print  | 

Hospitals in many regions across the U.S. are beginning to resume elective surgeries and develop a strategy to return some remote workers to the hospital. But it won't be an instantaneous move and CIOs will be at the forefront to make processes in the hospital as contactless as possible.

Staff tracking
The technology required to measure whether clinicians, staff and patients entering the hospital are safe includes body temperature monitors and areas to clean mobile devices. Battle Creek, Mich.-based Bronson is requiring all employees to undergo electronic screening with an app before entering various locations and employing geolocation for patients as they arrive to consider whether patients should wait in their cars instead of the waiting rooms and adjust their response based on when patient rooms are available to minimize the number of people in the hospitals and clinics.

In New York City, the Rockefeller Center is beginning to return remote workers and using a mobile app to monitor whether workers are complying with social distancing, according to the Wall Street Journal.

PwC is launching a phone app for employers to trace workers' office interactions as well and some employers aim to collect more personal health information about their employees to determine their risk for spreading and contracting COVID-19. Those at higher risk would need to wait longer to return to the office. Another app developed by RXR, a real estate company, tracks whether workers stay more than six feet apart and assesses a score based on their ability to social distance.

Patient flow
When the pandemic began, many health systems quickly transitioned to online scheduling and automated patient triage for patients with COVID-19 symptoms. This could become more normal for all patients as a matter of convenience and safety.

James Wellman, CIO of Blanchard Valley Health System in Findlay, Ohio, said his system is investigating a product from Phreesia that would provide a contactless registration process for patients. "We were meeting with them prior to COVID-19 about their online registration and pre-registration solutions," he said. "We think it may be a solid option that addresses many needs we already had and definitely can improve our process."

He also said the high-touch kiosks at the health system once used for registration and collecting patient information are falling out of favor due to the risk of cross-contamination. Patients can now use their own devices or ones the health system has cleaned and provided for them.

Alameda Health System, a safety net healthcare provider in Oakland, Calif., is employing several tactics to meet its mission of serving the underserved and vulnerable populations during the pandemic. "Even a trip on the bus to a medical appointment presents considerable risk and challenge for our patients," said Mark Amey, CIO of the health system. To support those patients, the health system has moved employees largely to videoconferencing with Zoom when possible and developed a process for staff members to checkout laptops if they do not have personal computers.

"[We also] beefed up our remote access with Citrix for virtual applications and desktops, and Imprivata for two-factor authentication to allow secure access anytime from anywhere," he said. The health system is also monitoring and increasing its network links to various organizations to support increased internet activity. The Alameda teams are also building an online classroom to share best practices with patients and clinicians remotely.

In the emergency department, the health system has deployed iPads to allow remote consults on certain patients, including those with behavioral health issues, for clinicians to conduct remote "check-ins" and visual monitoring to save PPE. For patients who need "sitters" due to fall risk or mental health issues, the health system started using baby monitors to connect patients with a centralized sitter who can observe multiple rooms at once.

Bronson similarly aims to provide as much remote care as possible. "All facilities, clinic locations and providers are now also on video visit platforms," said Ash Goel, MD, senior vice president of IT and CMO of Bronson, noting that there are more than 500 clinicians who are on the video platform. "[We] aim to sustain that for the foreseeable future [and use] visual management for data and running charts and historical trends to manage OR flows."

Payments
Contactless payment has soared in popularity during the pandemic across all industries, which could have implications for hospitals going forward. People already use mobile apps to pay for groceries and other essential items through Amazon Prime, Walmart Pay and Venmo and some hospitals are jumping on the bandwagon. For example, Texas Children's Hospital went cashless for copays and deductibles when the pandemic began.

The move was "one more way we could minimize the number of patient-staff interactions touching a physical document," Richelle Fleischer, president of Texas Children's Physicians Group and senior vice president of Texas Children's Hospital revenue cycle services, told Becker's during an interview.

In the future, healthcare organizations may decide to add applications such as Apple Pay, Cash App or Venmo for contactless collections. The idea of mobile payments began to gain popularity in healthcare before the pandemic as an easy way to collect from patients, especially millennials and Gen Z, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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