Jul 08 2020

3 Trends That Will Influence Healthcare as Staff Return to Work

As hospitals go back to treating patients in person, healthcare leaders must consider how to best eliminate the risk of coronavirus transmission among staff.

COVID-19 threw a major wrench into the traditional operating model of healthcare organizations, forcing many to adjust on the fly as they sent thousands of their nonessential staff home to work remotely. 

According to Gallup, the pandemic had driven nearly two-thirds of Americans to work remotely by early April, up from 31 percent in the middle of March.

Now, as states take varying phased approaches to reopening, the healthcare industry is seeing more and more of its employees come back to work in the physical healthcare environment. Yet safely supporting the return of nonessential staff means that healthcare organizations will need to enact new physical and digital changes in the months ahead. 

And while some of these changes will roll out over time — and may even ebb and flow as COVID-19 cases fluctuate — these key strategies should be on every CIO’s action plan:

1. Introduce Protective Solutions for Infection Prevention

When implemented properly, physical solutions like sealed devices and cough shields can be key in protecting employees as they begin to navigate a changed healthcare environment.

For example, SimScreen reallocated its manufacturing resources in April to develop a combination cough screen and sneeze guard barrier called SeparationScreen. The product is specifically designed to protect against infection by airborne, virus-containing droplets that can be present in the common face-to-face interactions between staff and patients.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to challenge businesses in unique ways,” says Gillian Peralta, SimScreen’s president, in a company press release. “Not only do they have to ensure the health and safety of both customers and workers, they also are grappling with managing an ever-changing regulatory environment.”

To that point, ultraviolet light disinfectant systems are also a useful measure that healthcare environments should consider adopting for device sanitation purposes. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control examined the effects of PurpleSun, a certain type of UV light technology, and determined the technology can eliminate up to 97.7 percent of pathogens in operating rooms alone.

Although UV light technology is not a replacement for other device hygiene measures, such as disinfection with chemicals, Donna Armellino, the lead author of the study and vice president of infection prevention at Northwell Health, tells Medical News Today that it can “optimize environmental cleanliness, resulting in decreased pathogens that could potentially cause infection.”

2. Adopt Touchless and Wireless Tools to Limit Exposure

One of the biggest trends emerging from the pandemic is the heightened demand for touchless technologies. With shared surfaces now being viewed as potential sources of contagion, companies that design and manufacture hands-free products are seeing a big spike in their sales inquiries.

One solution that’s taking off faster than others: temperature scanners.

The infrared camera devices, which can identify elevated skin temperatures without close contact, can be especially useful in healthcare settings. The technology is being used by organizations such as Memorial Hermann Health System at their points of entry to determine if a vendor, staff or patient family member might have a fever and require additional screening before being given access to the facility.

READ MORE: Learn how a "digital front door" can reduce foot traffic and streamline care.

Temperature scanners have also allowed the health system to stop manually scanning each individual’s body temperature at the facility entrances, saving their staff valuable time often spent on sanitation measures. 

“In between each temperature, they had to sanitize the thermometers,” John Calhoun, a project manager for Memorial Hermann Health System, says in an interview with Texas Medical Center. “Just think about 1,000 people and the lines. The longer the line, the less likely that people are going to be 6 feet apart. We realized we had to improve the flow from a safety perspective.”

The entire process, which takes only a few seconds, is generally safer for staff and patients alike. Calhoun adds that the devices have also enabled employees, who had previously been tasked with taking temperatures manually, to return to their daily routine.

3. Ensure Quality Care Is Being Delivered Virtually

To further reduce the risk of viral transmission — not to mention conserve valuable time and personal protective equipment — CIOs should consider how their organization conducts care virtually from within its own walls. 

Take virtual rounding for instance. This approach to care enables providers to see patients via digital screens outside the patient’s physical room in the facility.

With solutions like Apple iPad devices and Cisco DX80 videoconferencing kits, the screen in the patient’s room can even be turned on automatically so the patient or nurse doesn’t need to touch the device in order to answer it when the caretaker calls.

Lenovo has been working on its own virtual rounding solution, which includes a Lenovo ThinkSmart View. The solution was designed specifically in response to the needs of healthcare systems during the pandemic, allowing for valuable face-to-face time between patients and their providers as well as their loved ones. 

While virtual rounding and other protective solutions are extremely useful today, these technologies will likely endure long after the current pandemic. Because there will always be a need for some form of isolation within healthcare settings, adoption of these technologies can set organizations on the right foot for years to come.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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