How Digital Strategy Builds Sustainable Healthcare

“How can we thrive in this new healthcare landscape?”

That is the question on the mind of every healthcare system executive. According to Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report from January 2023, the profitability of US hospitals is down 26% since 2019. Over the last year, the cost of labor has risen 9%, making labor cost 24% more than it did in 2019. After the pandemic prompted a mass exodus of healthcare workers, almost every hospital system in the US has hundreds to thousands of vacant job openings. These unfilled positions have resulted in fewer patients getting care and less money flowing in. Additionally, Medicare Advantage payments are continually dwindling, creating new financial stress for hospital systems. The top line is shrinking, and FTE costs are piling up, all to create an untenable financial story. 

We cannot continue to throw people at problems to solve these healthcare challenges. The answer is to use resources efficiently and empower teams with technology to do more with less. 

What Does Digital Strategy Look Like for Your Hospital? 

When it comes to digital strategy, there are hundreds of different tools, applications, and portals being offered to hospitals every day. Hospitals must be wary of instituting dozens of single-use-case technologies and creating a new environment of frustration and overload. For example, a hospital uses virtual sitting platforms. That platform cart needs to be wheeled into the room, set up, and explained to the patient each time it’s used. Then the patient is getting a telehealth consultation with a specialist. Another cart is wheeled into the room, with new cameras and microphones. The hospital is also using a new vitals monitoring device. Now one patient has three different data outputs that all exist on different systems and need to be consolidated by nursing staff, while they are getting notifications and directions from all these channels. Single-solution systems aren’t going to cut it. Technology can create efficient teams if the system is lightweight, dynamic, and most importantly multidimensional.

A Lightweight Solution 

A strong digital strategy uses tools that fit within the resources a hospital already has. Technology must function well without taking up valuable bandwidth in hospital IT resources. This means solutions must be lightweight on infrastructure and exceptionally cyber secure. Solutions must have robust end-to-end encryption and layers of protection from any risk of a HIPAA violation. Many technologies that utilize cameras like telehealth platforms or virtual sitters rely on hospital infrastructure for both counts which can require expensive upgrades. 

Similarly, digital tools need to work with the human element of healthcare by integrating with in-person nursing teams. If a solution isn’t seamless for clinicians to use, no matter what it can do, overloaded teams will not get into the practice of using it. A truly innovative tech platform should also lean into being proactive. Nursing teams always need more time, and a solution that is easily useable, records data automatically, and provides proactive insights without prompting is offering stressed nursing teams that gift. 

Dynamic Applications 

AI is the term on everyone’s lips today, and for good reason. Already AI tools are making their way into the acute care space. AI-powered patient monitoring is already taking the place of solutions like patient sitters and virtual sitters. But AI, especially when matched with privacy-forward LIDAR sensors and multidimensional microphones can be used to truly make the hospital room come alive. In one powerful system, AI can handle a variety of use cases like fall prevention, vitals monitoring, pressure ulcer prevention, and beyond. Several hospitals using AI-powered patient monitoring have been able to reduce sitter hours by nearly 50% and eliminate virtual sitters. AI-powered solutions can ensure that nurses arrive exactly when patients need them no matter if it’s to stop a fall, prevent a pressure ulcer, or catch the earliest signs of sepsis. And these tasks can be done without risking patient privacy, without opening hospitals up to HIPAA risk, and without hiring additional FTE. This kind of dynamic functionality is what digital strategies require for sustainable acute implementation. 

Bringing Virtual Nursing to Bedside Care 

Beyond these proactive applications, telehealth must be brought into acute environments to benefit understaffed nursing teams. A robust virtual nursing team matched with AI monitoring solutions shows the way to build flexible teams while maintaining the highest level of patient care. Virtual nurses can streamline the admission and discharge process, be the point of contact for patients and their families, and ensure that record-keeping and follow-up paperwork is handled appropriately. With a full suite of digital resources, in-person nurses will have a new network of support to help them take care of patients. Empowered like this, nursing ratios that are untenable become much more realistic to manage, the need for agency staff can be reduced drastically, and patients are taken care of like never before through proactive monitoring, guidance from digital nurses, and greater face time from in-person nursing teams. 

The Leap of Faith

In today’s financial environment, it’s not easy for health systems to invest in a comprehensive digital strategy, but halfway solutions are only providing a band-aid. If someone has broken their ankle, a painkiller can help them feel better, but they really need a doctor to set the bone so it can heal. In the same way, hospital systems can only rely on temporary solutions like travel nurses, reduced capacity, virtual sitters, and administrative cuts for so long. Healthcare systems today have an opportunity to make a pointed and strategic investment that can transform how they provide sustainable care for a new age. 

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