We gathered medical directors, CMIOs and heads of clinical innovations from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and research institutes in the Benelux region to have an insightful conversation about how to improve the patient experience with the help of technology and stay ahead of digital innovation.
Healthcare learns from the pandemic
It was apparent that we have all learned a great deal through the pandemic, from making impulsive decisions to realizing that this was an opportunity to make genuine change for the future. Many healthcare professionals learned lessons that they plan to carry with them long after the pandemic.
One Belgian hospital put an iPad at patient bedsides to allow them to contact loved ones and to keep themselves entertained. This was an important aspect of patient welfare; several other hospitals had adopted this type of technology as well.
To closely focus on putting the patient first, one orthopedic surgeon plans on continuing internet consultations even after Covid-19 for post-operative care, rehab and follow-up with home care. Allowing patients to recuperate in their homes without the stress and difficulty of traveling after surgery can speed up the healing process.
A manager in Antwerp discovered how deeply important the social network around patients can be, which became far more apparent when it was suddenly removed and the rights of visitors were limited in hospitals. Looking at workflows and technology, as well as the ethics of leaving patients alone who are in the last days of their life, really helped to bring this social network into focus. All participants agreed these discussions need to move forward into the future.
The CMIO of a general hospital in Brussels used the pandemic to improve access to a patient portal which fostered closer communication between patients and clinicians. Both populations adopted the patient portal, and the hospital is developing it for wide-scale adoption.
The requirement to transfer patients reached a peak for many European hospitals through the pandemic. The need for relevant patient data to follow those patients was crucial — and remains so today. Finding technology to facilitate data transfer was and continues to be essential.
Clear and complete patient data and histories are important for patients and prevent them from having to repeat the same information. Continuity of care is about safety, empathy and most importantly patient wellbeing.
It is important that communication and handoff of digital information always goes to the right person at the right time with the correct level of information to comply with data security and GDPR compliance.
Making the right technology choices for healthcare
One innovation several hospitals adopted across Europe was Jamf Setup and Reset. Multiple users on one iPad connected to an Active Directory allows a doctor to grab an iPad and log in with their credentials to get all the applications and data required. Once finished, a nurse can pick up that same iPad and log in with their credentials, knowing that sensitive patient data has been wiped.
But before you make a buying decision, you need to think about the processes and how to help clinical staff in their daily jobs. What training do you need? What is and isn't working? You will find the most important factor is how to implement solutions rather than what features any solution offers. How do you involve people, track them, and follow up? If you don't have a continuous plan behind this, you need to have one.
Education about the patient experience
The medical director of a pharmaceutical company explained that she works hard to ensure that all employees, no matter what department, have enough knowledge about the patient or condition to carry out their role. She wants to ensure that every decision centers around the patient. As a result, her organization keeps patient experiences in mind when making all decisions.
How digital tools can affect healthcare
Most hospitals increased the ability to invest in digital tools during the last year from putting an iPad at patient bedsides to streamlining access to systems for clinical staff. The CMIO for a general hospital in Brussels explained how they have been working on a project to give patients full online access to their medical records, whereas previously only clinical staff had this level of access. This improved patient responses and engagement; the hospital found that it was a very helpful tool for patients.
Digitization is about ensuring patients have access to and receive care
Digitalization isn't just moving existing information and processes into a different environment or channel. It has the potential to do so much more.
The global head of clinical innovation in a pharmaceutical company made this very clear: 'Digital' is not the key word. It's about innovating patient and clinical communications and outcomes, and digital tools are part of how to get there.
It's not necessarily just about giving a device to a patient or to staff members. It's about ensuring they have the accesses required, that your organization has thought through what people need to access and how that looks.
Challenges to patient-focused digitalization
Most of the roundtable participants agreed, assuming there is enough funding, that the technology is there to truly increase patient-focused outcomes. But technology usually moves faster than legislation does, and it can sometimes become difficult to open up patient access without having laws to reinforce and protect everyone.
The age of patients can also be a factor; elderly people who are more likely to have a need for support are often unfamiliar with digital tools and can be resistant to using them. However, in several regions across Europe hospitals have found that providing intuitive tools like an iPad has proven that elders want to engage more with their care.
Keeping patient focus
The pandemic has acted as the ultimate proof of concept for use of mobile devices – notably in clinical communication, telehealth and as a tool to improve the patient experience. Hospitals and clinics had to focus on preventing transmission, reducing the PPE overhead, allowing already stretched clinicians to carry out clinical work and empowering patients to maintain their own mental health and wellbeing.
These issues may feel less urgent as vaccinations spread across the globe, but they are not any less important. Whatever digital tools you use, ensure they make the most out of the digital revolution, drive business efficiency, create a great user experience and stay ahead of the curve — by anticipating what's next.