A global perspective is particularly valuable during this pandemic as other countries are further ahead on their COVID-19 journeys than we are. If we keep our minds open, we can learn important lessons, including how to keep patients at the center of their care despite the pandemic.
Throughout this #HealthIT100in100 series of interviews, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with so many interesting people, but I have to admit that hearing from people outside of North America is extra special. I just love hearing first-hand stories from other countries on how they are handling the pandemic. Rick Halton of Lumeon was the first international interviewee – he was in Spain when we spoke. This interview with Dr. Michael Dahlweid, Global Chief Medical Officer & Vice President of Healthcare/LifeScience at DXC Technology (DXC), was the second.
Dr. Dahlweid was sheltering in place in his home in Switzerland, a stone’s throw from the border with Italy – one of the epicenters of the coronavirus in Europe.
Patient Engagement Vital During a Pandemic
“DXC’s journey with COVID-19 started back in mid-January,” explained Dr. Dahlweid. “The regional government of Guiyang, a client of ours, reached out to us. They asked us to help prevent their health capabilities from being overwhelmed. They wanted to get a hold of people in their region, keep them informed and where possible, diagnose and treat them remotely. At the very least, they wanted to keep patients engaged in doing the things they should be doing.”
Through their experience In China, DXC’s learned how important patient engagement is during a pandemic. Clearly communicating with people is vital and encouraging patients to continue to be active in their care while at home is critical. As the virus spread from country to country, this experience proved to be extremely helpful.
“As COVID-19 spread, we followed it to Australia, New Zealand, England, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain,” said Dr. Dahlweid. “Every country needed to do the same thing – reaching out to the public to keep them informed and engaged.” Unfortunately most did not realize the infrastructure that was needed to achieve this level of communication and engagement until the pandemic arrived on their doorstep.
Strong Technology Infrastructure
When we hear about COVID-19 “overwhelming a healthcare system” it is often in reference to clinical/ICU capacity. According to Dr. Dahlweid, however, the virus also overwhelms a health system’s communication capacity.
In the early days of each country’s pandemic, people would call into physician offices and hospitals to ask questions about COVID-19 – what the symptoms were, how it was transmitted, how they could protect themselves, etc. The calls clogged the communication lines and was quickly too much for staff to handle. This surge can be addressed with a multi-pronged approach.
“You could start with something like a bot,” said Dahlweid. These AI-powered automated attendants can easily answer the most common questions posed by the public via phone or even text. These bots could also be programmed to screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms and based on the answer, escalate the call to a telehealth visit with a trained clinician. “With the right app and technology, you may even be asked to take your own vital signs,” continued Dahlweid pointing to his smartphone. “And transmitting them securely to the clinician or public health authorities.”
Willingness to Adopt New Technology
Should governments and healthcare organizations be wary of asking people to learn and adopt new technologies? Dahlweid doesn’t think so and cites a recent example from the German government.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), is Germany’s federal agency responsible for disease control and is leading the country’s efforts to safeguard public health. In early April, they teamed up with a local Health IT startup Thryve to create a smartwatch app that gathers vital signs from users including pulse, temperature and sleep.
Called Corona-Datenspende, this service from RKI was a way for German citizens to donate their health data for coronavirus research. “The uptake of that non-monetary, voluntary app was 300,000 in just one week.” said Dahlweid, who believes this is indicative of the willingness of the public to use new digital health technologies in this fight against the pandemic.
[Editor’s note: After numerous privacy concerns were raised, the German government has since done an about-face on using this home-grown solution to track the spread of the virus, and has instead backed the Google and Apple approach to pandemic surveillance.]
DXC Technology – Pushing the Envelope
During our conversation, Dr. Dahlweid shared two stories about DXC Technology’s work that I found fascinating: their work on the temporary Nightingale Hospital in the UK and their new “system of engagement”.
In early April, the government in the UK decided to build a 4,000 bed temporary healthcare facility for coronavirus patients. Dubbed the NHS Nightingale Hospital, it was built over the span of just 9 days in the ExCeL conference center in East London. DXC was involved in the construction and put in the necessary IT infrastructure for the hospital to function.
Had HIMSS20 been held, DXC Technology would have debuted their “system-of-engagement” approach to healthcare. “Underneath, you have the classic system of record that includes the EHR,” explained Dahlweid. “Then you have a platform on top that provides interactions that are truly use-centric. This means the platform needs to be context specific and know what to do given the stage in the workflow the patient currently is.”
Based on configurable personas, this system-of-engagement would power ambient voice technology that would allow the doctor and patient to have a conversation while the system “listens” to the conversation. Because it has contextual knowledge, it would be able to pull out the relevant treatments and medications recommended by the physician and not only record it properly in the EHR, but actually generate the electronic prescription or order the right lab test.
And that’s not even the exciting part. Dr. Dahlweid dropped a big hint that DXC Technology is piloting this technology with a healthcare system in India.
Watch the interview to learn more:
- How communication infrastructure is so important during a pandemic
- How DXC helped create the ability for at-home COVID-19 tests
- Why we need to move quickly to address the next wave of the pandemic – the patients who have had their procedures delayed due to COVID-19
- What existing technologies could be stitched together to create a seamless patient experience even while isolating at home
- Why we might need “AI certifications” in the future, like what we have for physicians
For more information, visit https://www.dxc.technology/
This article is part of the #HealthIT100in100
Listen and subscribe to the Healthcare IT Today Interviews Podcast to hear all the latest insights from experts in healthcare IT.
And for an exclusive look at our top stories, subscribe to our newsletter.