In times of a global pandemic, where human and physical resources are stretched to the limit, operators and service providers in the health care ecosystem need to find ways to virtualise the delivery of health care, while trying to sustain business as usual.
Virtualisation in health care is in essence the transformation of a health care business from a paper-heavy to paperless or paper-lite environment, enabling care providers to provide virtual health care services to their patients.
Notably, virtualising the health care ecosystem provides greater access, portability and ease of delivery of health care services. For example, accessing a patient’s electronic health record virtually removes the risk of relying on incorrect and duplicate paper records, and provides the additional benefit of allowing care providers to manage their patients remotely.
Furthermore, virtualising the health care environment interoperates service delivery in every type of business unit for clinical care and back-office functions.
Virtualisation of health care is key to containing the current pandemic. In hindsight, little did we know that “health care” would become the fundamental precursor for humans returning to some degree of a normal life, as the battle against the global pandemic continues.
The benefits of virtualisation
Virtualisation can help hospitals:
- create a mobile/remote workforce to manage back office and administrative functions;
- maintain communication and review of patients’ and workforces’ state of health, as well as have the ability to track and trace patients;
- streamline the procure-to-pay cycle for required medical supplies; and
- ensure connectivity through virtual networking, hence allowing health care integrated delivery networks to still function optimally.
Health care facilities that fail to virtualise their operations, especially during a global pandemic where resources are exhausted, face several potential challenges that could hamper their ability to operate and offer patient care. This is especially as — even during a time of crisis — operators and service providers must continue to find ways to virtualise the delivery of health care, while sustaining their business models.
Risks related to a non-virtualised health care ecosystem include:
- limited access to health care facilities’ care providers and their connectivity to patients;
- limited access to mission-critical medical supplies and equipment, which puts patients at risk of not receiving treatment; and
- operating in silos and with limited resource capacity, which hampers the ability to conduct business as usual.
In what is a truly alarming reality, we have seen some hospitals that operate a paper-based environment experience a reduction of occupancy and revenue of at least 55% in the past four weeks, as they simply cannot cope with the inherent lockdown requirements that have created the need to work virtually.
The cost of virtualising health care has historically been influenced by the high total cost of ownership of information technology solutions and infrastructure. For years, hospitals and clinics were forced to operate a paper-heavy business, because they could not justify the IT budget relative to patient care and adequate profitability.
However, with cloud computing and the Internet of Things, the transition to virtualising IT solutions and services has allowed our country’s health care facilities to develop digital health transformation strategies that aspire to international best practice and interoperate seamlessly.
The past few years have seen SA’s health care sector truly arrive on the virtualisation scene, as an increasing number of local health care organisations are pushing to transition to more virtualised care, but there is still some way to go.
Although this is a bad period for mankind, we should use this tremendous gift of solitude and social distancing to reinvent the lens through which we look at how things are done. It is time that we, as South Africans in health care, catch up to the rest of the world.
May 13, 2020