Building a patient-centric hospital amidst the pandemic

With various health protocols currently in place to avoid the further spread of COVID-19, industries which heavily rely on face-to-face services were forced to drastically change business models – including hospitals. At a time when not only patients’ welfare was the priority but also that of health workers’, application of technology became crucial.

In a panel session at the Healthcare Frontiers 2020 Conference, Marilen Lagniton, Consulting Head of Patient Experience at the De Los Santos Medical Center in the Philippines, admitted that they sometimes “leave patients out of the equation” in choosing for technologies to adapt as they usually take it only from the perspectives of doctors or available infrastructure.

She said that at present, their hospital conducts a ‘safety huddle’ every morning that is attended by all persons within the operations of the organization — be it direct clinical care and non-clinical care personnel. This brief meeting is to discuss what has occurred over the past 24 hours and what to look forward to in the next 24 hours.

“It is essential and very important so that decisions are made instantly when needed. We need to make decisions very quickly during the pandemic and we don’t enjoy the luxury of coming up with a consensus all the time. That huddle every morning really helps bring together some type of consensus for very quick decisions,” Lagniton added.

Deployment of technology

Like almost every hospital, she said that her organization was also forced to adopt telemedicine even if the Philippines’ infrastructure for such service is not yet ripe for the picking.

“We’ve deployed hotlines 24/7 that connect patients to doctors via telemedicine and we are now finalizing our processes for telemedicine. The Philippines is not as advanced as Singapore for instance in the use of technology like telemedicine but we had to make it a necessity now and not a luxury anymore because of the pandemic,” Lagniton further shared.

Meanwhile, Sumit Puri, Group Chief Technology Officer of the Evercare Group in United Arab Emirates, described that the reception of doctors to the use of telemedicine before COVID-19 hit was lukewarm — as it was seen as breaking established norms in the industry.

“Now it’s the other way around and you actually have doctors interested because they realized the power of connecting to patients and engaging with patients during these times. We have actually deployed telehealth across geographies – India, Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh — and we’re getting some very good results,” he explained.

Apart from telemedicine, Puri said that they are now also deploying devices that are connected on a portal to remotely track patients’ vitals, and this is already doing wonders for asymptomatic cases. He added that they also conduct pilot tests to establish the accuracy of data that comes in to ensure that it can stand the test of time.

“Bottom-line here is – always use data to get to the next level of closure for any device and look at the body of work that has been done before. If there is some clinical testing that has already happened, then deploy that in your environment,” Puri suggested.

Picking technologies to adopt

For Thierry Chau, Senior Director for Business Development at CommScope, a lot of innovation now in the healthcare industry usually involves internet of things (IoT), the use of sensors, automation, as well as the converging of networks in a single wireless LAN (local area network) and IoT network.

“I think healthcare is not necessarily an industry that wants to be bleeding-edge because there are a lot of risks associated with new technology. All recommendations and advice start with the use case with your patients and customers and what exactly you are trying to achieve,” he expressed.

Chau said that it will then have to be followed up with an evaluation to see what best fits in terms of reliability, dependability and flexibility before heading for a pilot and testing to see if the offered solution will work for an organization.

Puri agreed that any major tech purchase must first be vetted by a matrix of criteria and by ‘incubating’ it to be used by medical teams in different geographies to see if it actually helped a particular doctor or institution. “Otherwise, technology for technology’s sake is not going to be useful; we have to in every way enable business and show that it helps in overall outcomes,” he shared.

Security is king

Lagniton also emphasized that statistics play a huge role in choosing the tech implementations in the hospital. Lantigon said that they employ an in-house data management base center to study the hospital’s trends in terms of deaths, mortalities, successful discharges and number of treated patients in order to locate gaps in their systems and processes.

“We’ve also looked at the trends on how we compare with other hospitals of the same size in terms of infection of caregivers and in terms of mortalities, etc. We were able to do that and so far, I think that we’ve done pretty well and it helped us tremendously in terms of the care that we’ve been able to give and in terms of our efficiency,” she expressed.

For Puri, he mentioned that safekeeping of verification procedures and identities of both patients and doctors are also key factors in order to succeed in the deployment of a technology that handles personal information. He also cited that the combination of people, process, and technology must be aligned very well especially on the people side as personnel must first be willing to adapt in order for any technology to be deployed.

“There are still many insurance companies not recognizing telemedicine and they do not value it and expect it to be some sort of fraud! You have to basically convince them that this is something for the best interest of everybody – of insurance companies, of patients and of the hospital,” Puri said.

Caring for patients even when they have already been discharged has become a whole new challenge for healthcare organizations.

“What we do is call every patient that has been discharged after three or four days. We let them know that care goes beyond the hospital’s four walls. We also want to see whether something has come up after the discharge or if there’s any kind of infection that has come up after a procedure from the hospital,” Lagniton shared. She said that this has helped patients become more compliant with doctors’ orders and is something that they are going to keep even when the pandemic is over.