Perspectives: How Advanced Communications Technology Has Created A ‘New Normal’ In Healthcare

TTA has an open invitation to industry leaders to contribute to our Perspectives non-promotional opinion area. Today, we have a contribution from Dave O’Shaughnessy, Avaya’s Healthcare Leader for EMEA and APAC, with a brief discussion of how AI and advanced communications technology can help healthcare in the long term. (It’s hard to say ‘a post-COVID world as France and Germany are experiencing second round lockdowns, and UK may not be far behind.) Interested contributors should contact Editor Donna. (We like pictures and graphs too)

Across industries, we see working patterns being transformed to create the ‘new normal’ as a result of COVID-19 and our reactions to the pandemic. The healthcare sector has been no different. The pandemic and its restrictions have brought a great number of new challenges to healthcare systems. And as has been the case across so many other sectors, communications technology has stepped in to plug the gaps caused by the pandemic.

The good news is that, not only have communications solutions successfully plugged the gaps, but they’ve also provided a blueprint for the future of healthcare. As we’ve found in other industries, we’ve actually seen the intelligent adoption of this technology lead to better experiences for patients, and better outcomes for providers, than were present before.

The most important (and immediate) area where this is most obvious is in contact tracing – tracking the physical, interpersonal interactions of those who have tested positive for COVID-19. This helps identify people who may need to be quarantined more quickly, therefore reducing the spread of the virus.

Helping government and healthcare organizations across the world with their contact tracing efforts, what we’ve found is that the most effective contact tracing efforts make use of artificial intelligence and automation. After all, the effort involves mountains of meticulous information gathering and analysis—all required to meet standards set by global health and government agencies. Acting upon that data manually just isn’t feasible, given the immediate needs at hand.

Therefore, the best systems employ AI virtual agents for initial patient contact, as well as for the simple data collection interactions – only falling back to live agents when the interaction becomes more complex. AI is also employed to deliver cloud-based, proactive notifications to automatically reach out to individuals or groups with optional response tracking, text interaction, and auto-forms to capture critical information.

Patients benefit from a smoother experience while providing the tracing information required, while healthcare providers and governments are able to collect more information with the resources they have.

Even without these focused AI technologies, however, our customers are putting their advanced contact centers to good use in combating the pandemic. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, one medical facility adopted a multi-experience approach, making it easy for patients to get the COVID-19-related information they need through a wide range of communications channels. This provided demonstrated results for improved knowledge on coronavirus safety measures in the community.

Going forward, we see tremendous use cases for extending this technology to make it easier for patients to directly engage with their doctors through asynchronous messaging. Such capabilities are of particular interest to mental health providers, who have found themselves unable to conduct in-person therapy sessions in the face of increased demand.

All of these solutions were implemented because of specific, pandemic-related challenges. But once the pandemic subsides, they’ll continue providing value, making it easier for patients to consume healthcare services, while delivering increased efficiency for providers.

Hat tip to Mary Burtt of AxiCom UK

Digital health on the front lines of coronavirus checking, treatment and prevention (updated 2 Mar)

Coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China and has spread to at least 40 countries and 80,000 victims, with 2,700 fatalities, has been roiling both financial and healthcare markets. The stock price of payers in the US have been hit hard due to an anticipated uptick in illness, but interestingly, Teladoc has been up quite smartly in the past few days. Teladoc reported that one of eight virtual visits in January was due to flu, which isn’t atypical–but half had not used Teladoc before. Analysts do expect that there’s an opportunity for telehealth and telemedicine providers to attract new users due to what this Editor has dubbed ‘conscious contact’–that if you even feel remotely sick, you’re going to turn to a virtual visit.

COVID-19 is not remotely near a pandemic outside of China. The three hallmarks of a pandemic are cross-seasonal outbreaks (so far only in China), cross-geography (done), and most importantly, attacking the well. The fatalities have been among those with compromised immune systems, not among the young and healthy who do get it. It’s alarming, like SARS, because of the origination in animals, and the ease of person-to-person transmission via travel, as the outbreaks in Iran, South Korea, Italy, and on cruise ships visiting Asia have confirmed. In the US, the CDC is reporting that it is not currently spreading in the community, but is preparing for that scenario including containment, and has been since January.

But beyond the virtual visit, there are other areas where digital health is part of dealing with COVID-19:

  • Preventing the spread to the patient’s family members. Avaya has been working in China since January to provide enterprise customers with home agents to prevent the spread of the virus. For hospitals, they have donated equipment to enable remote consultation services and remote visiting video at the hospitals, including observation of isolation wards. They have provided a case study of their work with the Tongxiang Hospital at the Tongxiang Branch of Zhejiang Province People’s Hospital. (Photo at left courtesy of Avaya.) 
  • Another is remote patient monitoring. Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, is using Tyto Care to monitor the 12 Israeli returnees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who continue to be in isolation. The patients will perform the tests on themselves, especially respiratory tests. Jerusalem Post 
    • Update 2 Mar: A representative from Sheba, the largest hospital system in the Middle East, was kind enough to contact me with additional information on their RPM program for COVID-19. For patients requiring isolation in that stage of treatment, Sheba has implemented a modular ‘field hospital’ setup, similar to what the Israeli (and US) military use, which can be set up in any open area. This isolation is to protect immunosuppressed patients from disease spread in the main hospitals. Telehealth being used in addition to Tyto are the Vici telemedicine robot and the Datos Health app for home treated patients. This Editor believes that both European and US public health systems are looking at the Sheba and Israeli approach.
  • Robots–actually a telehealth cart–are being tested for patient self-testing, much like Tyto Care’s use at Sheba. Robots could also deliver food (although they could also carry germs) and sweep streets.
  • Other monitoring can be done via symptom checkers (Babylon, K, and others). 98point6 released a coronavirus screening chatbot app as early as January, but what they’ve turned up so far is more cases of the flu. STAT
  • Data analytics can pinpoint outbreaks. The Epic, Athenahealth, and Meditech EHRs have released new guidance, testing orders and screening questions (e.g. around travel and contacts) that will help to identify outbreaks.

Update 28 Feb: This Editor would like to know more about UV disinfection being used versus coronavirus for large spaces such as in hospitals and aircraft. If you have information on technologies such as PurpleSun which have been tested against hospital pathogens also being used against coronavirus, please contact Editor Donna.

Healthcare technologies which weren’t around during the SARS and swine flu epidemics may make a big difference in the spread, treatment and mortality rate of COVID-19. Healthcare Dive, HealthTechMagazine

UPDATE 28 FEB

As a service to our Readers, we are providing the following health service update links:

The UK Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England has provided the following links to coronavirus guidance (hat tip to DOHSC via LinkedIn):

👩‍⚕️ Health: http://bit.ly/37qkWaV
🚂 Transport: http://bit.ly/2HDOFBW
👩‍🎓 Education: http://bit.ly/38KT41O
👨‍💼 Employers: http://bit.ly/2TfwpUT
🏡 Social care: http://bit.ly/2VhBIG9

US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO) main website on coronavirus:https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

Health Canada’s main page: http://ow.ly/bLtF50yfJb7