The COVID-19 pandemic has given healthcare a lot to think about and to reorganize, and top of mind is improving efficiency and getting the most out of staff. The most obvious target should be administrative costs, the largest source of wasteful U.S. healthcare spending, which totals at least $760 billion annually, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The pandemic also alerted healthcare institutions to how dangerously spread thin they are with mayors and governors going so far as to implore former workers to come out of retirement to make up for shortfalls in staff. If administrative work consumed less of workers’ time, each of them would have more time to spend providing care to patients, thereby lessening the burden on the entire system.
To help reduce wasteful spending and improve the efficiency of each healthcare worker – that is, to allow every dollar and every employee to do more good – the U.S. healthcare system must look for opportunities to automate tedious tasks, and one of the first things it can look at is using robotics with cloud integration to complement clinicians on the front lines.
Especially in recent years, medical devices integrated with the Internet of Things (IoT) have become more common, but many of them still lack integration with electronic health records and electronic medical records (EHR and EMR), leaving a lot of human work to do between the recording of patient results and those results’ migration to wherever hospitals store their data. In layman’s terms, human medical workers have to work with the patients, record those results and then manually upload them somewhere. In addition to being time consuming, this directly contributes to the aforementioned hundreds of billions of dollars in annual U.S. healthcare spending waste.
Human healthcare workers are as important as they have ever been but they need help. Medical devices must be cloud-integrated so that patient results and records are created automatically and instantly uploaded to the cloud, almost completely cutting admin out of the equation.
These records have tremendous value before they are stored. Medical devices can provide clinicians with troves of valuable information and context that they can use to make decisions to improve and expedite patient care. In many cases, these devices can detect patient progress that human clinicians cannot detect on their own. This extra set of eyes is critical, especially in progress-based forms of care like rehabilitation. When workers are not busy recording results and have access to more information in real time, they can make better decisions, enhancing each care session and improving patient outcomes.
What else integration needs
As healthcare executives are painfully aware, solutions are seldom one-size-fits-all. Large hospital networks, which can contain as many as 185 hospitals, can also utilize dozens of different information exchange standards. Any suitable integration solution must be tailor-made to enable individual facilities to utilize the information exchange standards of their choice, while simultaneously allowing that information to be compatible between different facilities within the same health network.
Data is great, but only if it is of a high quality and unbiased. At the micro level, robotics tend to evaluate patients more neutrally than human clinicians, which can provide more objective information about patients and allow caregivers to make less biased decisions. At the macro level, health systems can examine the data collected by these robotic medical devices to assess the performance of their practice and identify areas for improvement.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to regulate the protection of the privacy and security of certain health information, especially health information that is transferred or stored electronically. As more healthcare industry stakeholders migrate to the cloud, HIPAA will continue to evolve, so any viable cloud technology partner must practice sound HIPAA compliance.
Healthcare’s new era
The U.S. healthcare industry must enter a new era of efficiency and preparedness, and one of the most glaring areas for improvement is its $265.6 billion in annual administrative waste. Cloud-integrated robotics that yield high-quality data, are customizable and are HIPAA-compliant can help automate and reduce this waste.
Robotics often elicit fears of job loss, but the pandemic should assure healthcare workers that their jobs are not on the chopping block. On the contrary, there are not enough healthcare workers to go around. We should not remove humans from healthcare, but we should absolutely help them free up their time so they can spend more of their valuable time providing care and less entering numbers into spreadsheets.
From the perspective of healthcare facilities and systems, this allows their existing resources to see more patients and be more focused on having a positive clinical impact on them, and more patients treated with quality will increase revenue. This is only possible through significant investment in technological infrastructure, but the pandemic should be cause enough for any healthcare system or facility to spare no expense in maximizing efficiency and capacity.
Dr. Eric Dusseux is the CEO of BIONIK Laboratories, developer of the InMotion Robotic System.