How One Health System Is Planning HIT For Upcoming COVID-19 Surge

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, like its health system peers,  has gone through tumultuous times as the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged. Despite the crisis conditions Northwell faced, the system was able to make a rapid transition to telehealth and shift its IT infrastructure to support clinicians’ needs.

However, the reality is that the HIT department’s role in supporting pandemic efforts is far from done. In fact, health leaders are now focusing on how to cope with the inevitable next surge of COVID-19 cases. The IT team is digesting what they’ve learned during the initial phase of the pandemic and looking for ways to improve their response when the virus hits them hard again, according to CIO John Bosco, who spoke to Becker’s Hospital Review.

One of the steps Bosco has taken is to create a resurgence workgroup tackling both technology and related clinical issues. “We will, even in the face of significant financial loss from [the pandemic], continue to automate and make investments in technology in recognition of the things that we need to have but don’t, and the things we knew we needed before but didn’t pull the trigger,” Bosco told Becker’s. “There is a strong appetite for more automation, integration and standardization across hospitals.”

One technology Bosco sees as likely to play a bigger role is robotic process automation, which he anticipates will be deployed to handle administrative tasks. He notes that intelligent RPA can make decisions and orchestrate actions, including manual and repetitive tasks people typically perform at present. For example, he expects to use bots for call centers, as they’re likely to route calls more efficiently and can direct patients with COVID-19 concerns to an appropriate level of care.

Bosco also expects to use patient wearables in new ways. For example, he expects to use the wearables to make remote vital sign monitoring mores accessible during the next surge and see to it that this vital sign data is integrated directly into the EHR. The system will also use remote patient monitoring to limit the number of people who enter and exit rooms, in combination with two-way audio/video communications.

In addition, Northwell will continue to leverage Microsoft Teams to clinical team members. For example, physicians can now use a chatbot embedded in Teams to ask verbally for information about a patient. The platform will then bring the information on that patient onto the screen. This will spare physicians the effort involved in finding a computer, logging into the EHR and getting the patient information.

While these changes will almost certainly make it easier for physicians to cope with COVID-19 demands, they’re also likely to improve Northwell’s efficiency over the longer term. Perhaps this will be one of the few positive things to emerge from the crisis after pandemic conditions someday lift.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.