Opinion: Health care innovation can’t quit now that we are ahead

As health care companies raised a record-breaking $31.6 billion during the first quarter of 2021, investors drove home two big points:

  • Health care providers adopted digital technologies like virtual care solutions in astonishing numbers as they pushed through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Health care innovation is just getting started.

I’ve never been more optimistic about the opportunities to dramatically change health care. We have the ability to expand access to more people around the world, achieve the goals of precision health, and ultimately improve outcomes. But to succeed, health care leaders need to rethink what this crisis revealed and then reshape how they deliver care.

People are eager for change. As the public embraces telemedicine, more health care leaders recognize they must meet consumer expectations, pointing to the need to fast-track the adoption of innovations that increase productivity and efficiency and deliver on the promise to improve patient outcomes at scale.

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Forward-thinking companies are making great progress toward this goal. Examples, including some from a just-released white paper from GE Healthcare, the company I help lead, show what’s possible.

HCA Healthcare, which has 186 hospitals and is responsible for approximately 32 million annual patient encounters, has invested significantly in data science to help the organization find opportunities to improve care and patient outcomes that can be seen only in vast amounts of data. In recent years, the organization doubled down on actionable data and analytics. Then the pandemic hit, and many of these technology pilots kicked into hyper speed.

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When Covid-19 patients flooded HCA Healthcare’s hospitals, caregivers learned that some of them fared better when placed on their bellies. The organization employed connected medical devices to collect patient data at the bedside. When the numbers suggested a patient could benefit from a change in position, an alert sent to a clinician’s smartphone prompted them to take action. In the past, internal discussions and approvals for projects like these might have taken six to 18 months before they went live. HCA Healthcare administrators said the pandemic prompted them to launch the initiative in six days.

Innovation has advanced lifesaving decision support. To improve outcomes for patients with sepsis, HCA Healthcare hospitals started analyzing aggregated data streams to provide actionable information to caregivers. The organization’s algorithm-driven system can detect subtle changes in a patient’s condition and alert clinicians to signs of sepsis as much as six hours earlier than before so that they can quickly intervene with appropriate treatment. The effort has saved more than 8,000 lives, according to the company.

Similar feats have occurred outside the U.S. Take the Apex Hospitals in Jaipur, India, which deployed a tele-intensive care unit at the outset of the pandemic. Remote patient monitoring connected roughly 800 beds across the country, which boosted the maximum number of patients an ICU team could see in a day from 15 to 100. Physicians reported that the quality of care also improved.

Technology is enabling clinicians to focus on what matters most: patient care.

Many hospitals have yet to modernize their approach to identifying and treating patients with arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. Under the old process, a digital signal pings a monitor, and then a technician calls or texts a nurse before printing out and annotating paper documents. But some hospitals have digitized the entire process by implementing a central monitoring unit. Clinicians and staff experience the benefit of cleaner workflows, brought about by the new technology, and the ability to treat patients earlier than usual. This kind of innovation also quelled alarm fatigue, a contributor to burnout, just as the condition was rising in tandem with the coronavirus.

When Covid-19 is no longer considered a pandemic, the value of organizations’ innovations will continue to help patients. But what can health systems do now to ensure their innovative spirit lives on?

Analyze what matters most. Covid-19 shone a light on inefficiencies and risks to care quality. When the pandemic fades, executives will have more time, not less, to act on insights gleaned from clinicians, patients, and the data.

Build trusted relationships with partners. No health system can overhaul complex processes on its own, and no single vendor can do it all. The right partners understand the organization’s needs in the broader context of the new health care ecosystem.

Strive to be digitally driven. In an effort to expand and improve access, health care is becoming more personalized. Digitally driven tools such as artificial intelligence, connected devices, and data at the bedside are driving this shift. It’s time to embrace these innovations.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that quick and evidence-driven innovation matters and opportunity can emerge from crisis.

We don’t need to expose patients to additional risk when data are available in real time. We don’t need to lose another physician to burnout when AI can alleviate some of the pressure. We won’t let the notion that health care is the toughest industry to modernize stop us from finding ways to overcome the hurdles when we’ve already forged ahead to accelerate innovation amid the largest crisis to ever hit health care.

If we want to realize the benefits of a new health care ecosystem, we need to keep innovating for the good of everyone. We know there’s space to make health care more efficient, personal, and precise. Creating the place for it to happen is on us.

Kieran Murphy is the president and CEO of GE Healthcare.

Source: STAT