How pandemic-inspired technology solutions are poised to alter nursing care

Supply chains. Algorithms. Artificial intelligence (AI). Rarely the language of everyday nursing before COVID-19, these terms now sit at the center of patient care thanks to technologies’ demonstrated ability to get the right resources to the right places and people at the right times – even during a crisis. 

As nurse informaticists, technology teams, and hospitals review the lessons learned over a tough 18 months, they credit three critical factors for enabling the deployment of rapid, responsive, patient-centered technology: a single-minded focus, end-user input, and workflow simplification. By listening to clinicians, organizing complex information into streamlined, shareable interfaces, and coalescing around a common goal, IT teams and healthcare administrators empowered front-line providers to execute heroic actions day in and day out.

Single-Minded Focus

Early on, clinicians and hospitals organized around their own overriding objective: to provide stellar care despite challenging circumstances. Amidst critical shortages of protective gear, skyrocketing patient loads, and soaring infections, their unity sparked rapid change.  Decades of innovation occurred almost overnight, dramatically illustrating the power of unity to bring about dramatic transformation. 

End-User Input

Interdisciplinary teams contributed essential feedback about their technology needs, obstacles, and “nice to have” data. New workstreams were formed to evaluate existing technology tools – from handheld barcode scanners, clinical smartphones and tablets to mobile printers, and in-room monitors – for their ability to connect and inform teams and stand up to constant cleaning and disinfecting. 

Simplified Technology

Hospitals employed healthcare-grade mobility solutions to track real-time information such as COVID-19 tests, lab results and respiratory emergencies. These smart devices also enabled clinicians to share critical data with geographically disparate teams and expedite in-person and remote patient care.

As case numbers grew, so too did the need to consolidate multiple data streams into a single, accessible repository that all patient care team members could easily reach while on the move or working temporary settings. Unfortunately, the limitations imposed by COVID-19 made the use of multiple, task-specific devices untenable. 

Reams of complex information had to be streamed, summarized, and shared in a concise, readable format using a single device that clinicians could easily carry. Even barcode scanner designs were reconsidered, with convertible 4-in-1 corded and cordless readers rapidly gaining in popularity.

Disinfectant-ready, lightweight mobile computing devices proved ideal for displaying information via a user-friendly interface. Software applications had to feature the most critical data upfront and enable clinicians to summon priority data with the fewest possible clicks. Everything had to occur instantly while also reaching all team members. 

Today, with the necessity for clearer, better interfaces now fully appreciated, care teams can expect a new generation of more intuitive, streamlined applications in the future.

Aha Moments

When infection rates started to decline, teams carefully evaluated and improved earlier strategies to sustain both routine and continued pandemic-related case requirements. They quickly discovered that the most valuable suggestions came from the end-users themselves. Their input assumed a pivotal role in creating patient-centered technology tools that helped improve the quality of care and reduce costs when clinicians desperately needed such benefits.

Virtual Tools

Distance education, telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and other virtual care strategies were already emerging before 2020. COVID-19 made them imperative.  

Of necessity, the healthcare community quickly learned to leverage videos, presentations, and digital resources to share vital information with colleagues and patients in a new, virtual way. Remote training tools proved indispensable during the crisis, especially as new technologies were implemented in quick fashion to meet the mounting clinical needs.

Many patients would have forgone routine care if telehealth and remote patient monitoring options weren’t available during surge periods. Many credit the healthcare community’s ability to adapt for sustaining continuity of care, despite months of social distancing.

Now that all parties have become comfortable with arms-length care, we can expect the use of “hospital at home” programs, telemedicine visits for pre-op and post-op check-ins, and AI algorithms to help patients maintain their self-care to continue.  Medical training will continue to incorporate hybrid blends of teleconferences, video lectures, virtual testing, group discussions, and more. 

The Bottom Line

Though COVID-19 came with countless challenges, it also had an unexpected silver lining. It established that a combination of common purpose, streamlined digital tools, and the full participation of front-line teams in technology innovation can help the healthcare community swiftly accomplish the seemingly impossible. 

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