by Doug Cusick, CEO, TransformativeMED

August 2020- COVID-19 is challenging everything we thought about what can be accomplished at a distance

Six months ago, few U.S. economic and business experts would have thought that companies could be productive with 66% of employees working from home. Certainly, many industries and the economy have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the overall productivity of these newly home-based employees has not suffered. In fact, it’s improving.

Likewise, six months ago, few health systems would have imagined that they would each be delivering thousands of daily patient visits through telehealth. They would have assumed that patients would demand to see their doctor in-person and encounters would be too restrictive. On the contrary, nearly half of U.S. patients have used telehealth and are highly satisfied, while telehealth visits are expected to reach 1 billion this year.

Another such shift in perspective in healthcare has occurred with EHR implementations. Nearly all health systems and hospitals would have assumed, pre-pandemic, that such a large software system installation would always require an in-person team who would need to be on-site for several days. Not necessarily. As evidenced by recently announced virtual implementations from Cerner and then Epic, more healthcare organizations are challenging the notion that EHRs—or any software—requires the travel and expense of an in-person project.

Unprecedented Times, Unprecedented Change

Working from home, telehealth and virtual implementations are only a few of the many changes occurring globally in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On a larger scale, Ford, GE and General Motors changed their assembly lines to produce equipment such as ventilators for hospitals and health systems. On a smaller scale, health IT companies’ “assembly lines” also changed because of the surge in demand, predominately for COVID-19-related solutions and virtual implementations.

These virtual implementations are highly compatible with EHRs and other IT solutions because the majority of platforms are now cloud-based. This is the purpose of cloud-based technology solutions—they’re virtually everywhere and easy to implement with successful adoption from the first time they’re used.

The challenge for software developers with cloud-based systems to this point has been making configurations quick and easy through the design and implementation of clinical best practice workflows, reducing the complexity of system functionality and designing a system that is so intuitive that it requires minimal user training. That was part of the reason developers and health systems assumed (and many still do) that technical professionals from the vendor needed to be on-site to implement and configure equipment and software, as well as facilitate face-to-face training sessions for different groups.

A few cloud-based health IT companies, however, figured out well before the pandemic how to implement their solutions virtually—without onsite resources—while making end-user training intuitive enough to eliminate the need for training sessions. Prior to the pandemic, these companies had also developed the standard capabilities to improve workflows based on different specialties, while also decreasing implementation times and accelerating user adoption, providing the health systems almost instant improvements and value from their software investments.

Specific to COVID-19 and EHR optimizations―based on what they already knew―these health IT companies were able to quickly provide virtual solutions to support patient testing, case workflows, care team handoffs, local and national reporting requirements, and immediate communication to clinician’s mobile devices. These capabilities offered an advantage when health systems and providers were urgently demanding such technology to support the surge of patients to their facilities.

Follow the Leaders

As with remote working and telehealth, the value presented by virtual implementations has become more apparent in recent months—and it will endure. Not only are cloud-based implementations typically less expensive for the hospital, but also the health IT company. Companies are discovering virtual implementations allow them to respond faster to their clients’ requests. Providers have likewise realized that cloud-based installations enable them to seamlessly incorporate such solutions into clinical workflows sooner and that implementations can occur more conveniently during non-peak activity times in a facility’s schedule.

Similarly, design and training sessions can occur through remote meetings, which means end-users do not need to schedule a physical space. Other non-in-person training options can include electronically delivering premade videos, live webcasts, and social media, which can be reviewed on the clinician’s schedule, not that of the vendor. Such flexible planning and training options are crucial now considering the uncertain demands from hospitals, many of which are anticipating another potential surge of patients with COVID-19 in the fall and winter months.

With virtual systems, clinician satisfaction further increases because there’s increased flexibility to meet with clinical users without interrupting workflow. Other aspects that increase satisfaction include around-the-clock technical and clinical support, without delay for travel to and from different physical locations. In addition, if the virtually deployed solutions improve clinicians’ workflows rather than impede them, the increase in productivity will increase their satisfaction. With that comes greater—and safer—patient throughput.

Accelerating Change

Considering these benefits, we can expect more virtual implementations after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, just as we can expect more full-time remote workers and increased demand for telehealth as employers and patients have experienced the positive results. “The new normal” is already a tired expression regarding our post-COVID-19 world, but when considering virtual implementations, it is apt. This technological shift would have become normal at hospitals and health systems soon enough; the pandemic is simply accelerating the change.

About the author

Doug Cusick is the president and CEO of TransformativeMed, a company that transforms how electronic health records are used by directly embedding clinician-friendly solutions.

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