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Digitization during COVID-19: How health technology has developed during the pandemic


Denpa News COVID-19 has led to an increase in virtual medical consultations and remote treatments, leading to a rapid acceleration of digital solutions. But it should be noted that this digital response has occurred primarily in primary care, as many secondary care service providers were focused on treating coronavirus patients. Thus, in secondary healthcare or specialized medicine, face-to-face consultations, and in-person follow-up continue to be the fundamental care method. While it is true that in many cases it is surely not necessary to visit a hospital just to have a conversation with someone, this segment is not yet ready for digitization. This is what their professionals assure: almost 30% say that their organizations are not ‘at all’ or are only ‘a little’ prepared for the adoption of these technologies.

Leading from the front line

For many people, primary care has been the main point of contact during the early stages of the pandemic. To manage the increase in demand and minimize contact, they introduced telephone, email, and virtual consultations, which has allowed them to continue attending to patients, as well as ensuring that those who needed appointments in person have been able to get them. During this time there have been many legitimate concerns about the potential harm to the health of people who, due to the situation, have suffered delays or even abandonment of their routine care and medical follow-ups. In addition, a particularly sensitive issue is the need to manage the aftermath of the pandemic at the same time as the potential need for mental health support caused by it. This is where secondary health services come in, who can learn valuable lessons from the experience of primary care and make their own evolution towards new and digital ways of working.

A changing landscape

At the same time that the pandemic has disrupted healthcare and caused radical changes in care models, it has also accelerated the pace of digitization by at least a decade. This transformation will be key to the future of healthcare.

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Across Europe, more and more people are using new technologies for health issues. This includes searching for health information online, making appointments, attending virtual health consultations, or using technology solutions to manage your health remotely. This has a huge impact, saving healthcare professionals and patients enormous amounts of time.

On the other hand, like many sectors, healthcare has adopted teleworking. In this sense, the sector faces unique challenges in terms of the protection of personal data and the security of highly sensitive information, such as patient reports. The fact is that sharing physical reports is expensive and time-consuming, and it also creates problems about confidentiality and monitoring of personnel. And it’s not just patient care that benefits from this technological change. It can also be applied for the training of personnel or the processes of welcoming new professionals, which can now be carried out remotely, maintaining social distance and reducing the need to travel.

We have the technology …

The technology to do all of this digitally in the healthcare setting already exists. What’s more, it can be easily integrated into current work processes, so it does not require additional resources or significant investments in new staff. The responsibility rests with managers or decision-makers, who must update their IT strategies and invest in new frameworks that serve for future healthcare provisioning.

As we have already mentioned, patient confidentiality is key in the shift towards digital, and the technology departments of health centers already know very well the security measures that need to be implemented. Almost all the devices used, such as printers and scanners, have standard security features such as pull printing, encryption and user authentication. Now it is necessary to offer the necessary training so that all members of the staff have a good understanding of digitization and can change their habits and move away from ‘the traditional way’ of doing things.

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So what can secondary healthcare learn from this?

The ability of primary care to react and adapt to the challenges of these new times has been impressive. Despite being the first point of contact during the crisis, they have managed to implement enormous advances in systems and in staff behavior. Now secondary healthcare has the opportunity to learn from this and implement its own changes with the following in mind:

– It is necessary to consider everyone

As many IT departments already know, there can be a wide range of computer literacy among staff. Although most know how to operate a computer, many may not have experience with video conferencing software or are hesitant to teach other colleagues and patients how to use it. The change has been so rapid that it can be overwhelming. That’s why an in-depth training program is needed so that everyone can keep up the speed of the digitization process. This is especially important when it comes to security issues, as even those used to handling paper documents safely will need to understand and apply digital security measures.

– Find the balance

While online consultations may be well received by some patients, they are not for everyone, especially the elderly, vulnerable, or those who live in rural areas. 29% of Europeans lack basic digital skills, which increases the risk of digital exclusion, and 80 million of them never use the internet either because they do not have a computer or because it is too expensive 1 . Furthermore, there are some situations in secondary healthcare where consultations or treatment must necessarily be carried out face-to-face. On the other hand, students and fellows may also need a more practical approach than can be offered through online learning. With all this in mind, having a hybrid approach, where those who require direct interaction can have as easy access as those who access online services, can be a good starting point for the future.

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– Working together is always better

 One important thing to learn from the primary care response is the beneficial impact of collaboration. It seems obvious, but the reality is that the health sector is not characterized (in general), by its ability to share knowledge and data between different teams.
However, as long as it is done safely (and with patient consent), sharing data can help the organization plan its response to difficult situations like COVID-19. And on a day-to-day basis, new methods of online interaction can open up new and interesting lines of communication – for example, in the future, we could find a patient, their GP, and a clinical specialist together in the same video call.

Conclusion: an opportunity to shape the future of secondary care

 There have been many changes that have taken place in a short space of time, and it is fair to say that technology has been a fundamental driver of all this. Some of these changes may be temporary – short-term solutions that have allowed staff to continue to function under difficult circumstances. Others, however, may have come to stay.

Now we have the opportunity to study what we have learned from this crisis and to shape how the healthcare industry can respond to any future challenges. With the right technology, and the right partners to implement it, this move to digitization can deliver long-term positive results for both patients and healthcare workers.


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