The potential second surge of COVID-19 patients & 'new normal' post pandemic: 3 insights from hospital IT leaders

Whether or not the U.S. is hit by a potential second wave of COVID-19, health IT advancements in telemedicine, data analytics and other technologies have laid the foundation for a "new normal" focused on elevating consumerism and ensuring patient confidence in care.

Increased consumer expectation

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly increased telemedicine access, in turn growing patients' expectations of easy access to video and audio visits, secure email communication with their care teams and patient portal capabilities. 

Alameda Health System, a safety net healthcare provider in Oakland, Calif., is focusing on building up these patient engagement efforts not just for the potential second surge of COVID-19 patients but for the new future of healthcare, CIO Mark Amey told Becker's Hospital Review.

"I am convinced that with or without a second wave of COVID-19, life – and by extension healthcare – will never go back to what we had just three months ago," he said. "I don't believe that we are living in the 'new normal' but the past won't be the norm either."

To prepare for this new normal, Mr. Amey and his team at Alameda Health System are rolling out several initiatives, including implementing secure and supported communication technologies, engaging with vendor partners and aligning them with the health system's new strategic vision. Alameda is also building out tools in the EHR to support appropriate billing and smart phrases as well as collaborating with insurers and legislators to ensure fair reimbursement for telehealth services.

Systems for escalating care capacity

In the event of a potential second surge of COVID-19 patients, Battle Creek, Mich.-based Bronson has enacted several plans across its network with systems developed to increase capacity of its EHR, beds, devices and telephone communications, according to Ash Goel, MD, chief information and medical informatics officer of Bronson.

From the IT perspective, Dr. Goel said hospitals should consider investigating serology, or examination of blood serum to diagnose pathogens, as a way to safeguard the health and safety of employees at work. Further, he said initiatives like allowing staff to use self-enrolled contact tracing apps can be used to develop heat maps and manage location density of employees, helping ensure a safer workspace.

Building up telemedicine, remote monitoring

While many health systems around the country were hit by surges of COVID-19 patients, some hospitals have yet to experience a large volume of patients. At Blanchard Valley Health System in Findlay, Ohio, CIO James Wellman said he and his team are using this time to catch up on project planning and rapidly implement telehealth services.

"We are continuing to refine our video options for acute care patients to reduce physical contact and personal protective equipment usage while still providing a high level of care," Mr. Wellman said. "This is a balancing act that needs a lot of clinical leadership, so we provide a solution that does not come at the expense of patient confidence."

To prepare for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, Blanchard Valley Health System is also examining at-home monitoring services both during the pandemic and after to help serve patients who are especially vulnerable.

More articles on health IT:
AMA's guide for restoring public trust in data sharing
Mount Sinai, Google Nest partner for COVID-19 patient monitoring
Many COVID-19 contact tracers aren't reporting in real time

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