Silvia Piai (Research Director, Health Insights)
Giulia Besana (Research Analyst, Health Insights)

The value of time has rarely been demonstrated at this magnitude in global healthcare, and in specific health IT, as it has during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The world — particularly Europe — was caught unprepared. Time is everything during a pandemic and digital tools have immense potential to help win all-precious time.

Digital tools can provide actionable insights to help health organizations buy time to prevent what is preventable and prepare for what is imminent. Health IT departments are deploying solutions to rapidly set up additional care capabilities, while ensuring process and operations continuity and safety.

The scientific community still has insufficient evidence on the nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its impact, so it’s crucial for global healthcare organizations to explore the lessons learned from early experiences of COVID-19. IDC has just published a study on this. Analyzing all the experiences, it’s clear that the role of health ICT is to enable a sense-predict-respond ecosystem.

Looking at two main settings, public health and hospitals, we analyzed how solutions have been deployed and the key challenges encountered.

Public Health and Population Health Management

Timely and accurate collection, sharing, and analysis of high-quality data are key for epidemic preparedness and management strategies. Platforms making data available to Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence tools can help public health bodies:

    • Identify early signals of the outbreak
    • Detect and forecast COVID-19 spread patterns
    • Evaluate and optimize strategies to control the spread of the epidemic

Healthcare systems are also relying on technology to support strategies and initiatives aimed at empowering citizens to cope with the emergency.

    • Teleconsultation and remote health services are encouraged to avoid unnecessary visits to medical facilities. Chatbots, dedicated phone lines, and telehealth services help provide access to medical advice. But this approach may hinder the elderly and the poor from accessing care, worsening already existing health inequalities.
    • The fight against COVID-19 misinformation is seeing the creation of dedicated taskforces. Health authorities are partnering with global technology and social media players to stop the dissemination of fake news and to provide accurate and authoritative health information.
    • Contact tracing and social distancing measures are supported by a range of technologies, including AI-enabled mobile apps as well as facial recognition, drones, and intelligent video surveillance. This approach faces data privacy regulation and discrimination challenges. Current experiences suggest that when securely orchestrating different levels of data aggregation, healthcare systems can:
      • Enhance their contagion analysis and forecast capabilities
      • Help citizens to manage personal risk

Hospital Surge and Respond Capabilities

The outbreak of COVID-19 is putting hospitals under unbearable pressure. The distressing situation described by staff in Bergamo, Italy, or the ever-shrinking numbers of available ICU beds in London, Paris, and Madrid are just the most glaring examples of the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact on hospitals. The WHO has listed a checklist of six key actions to support hospitals. On these points, health IT is showing it can play a crucial role in helping healthcare facilities to ensure:

    • Continuity of essential services, which relies on healthcare organizations’ ability to reduce failure risks while building an emergency management function. Here, automation, IT infrastructure redundancy, and IT resources availability are key for success.
    • Well-coordinated implementation of priority action, hard to run without virtual collaboration tools to organize shift, responsibilities, and handovers in a flexible way.
    • Clear and accurate internal and external communication, key to ensure the enablement of a chain of command. This enables healthcare facilities to clarify priorities, department organization, and personnel allocation. At the same time it enables them to keep patients, caregivers, and the wider public properly informed and connected.
    • Swift adaptation to increased demands, needed to deal with the complexity of configuring new hospitals and wards to face the emergency. This is made possible through a range of innovative actions such as repurposing and augmenting existing information systems, to leveraging new technologies such as 3D printing to address supply chain shortages.
    • Effective use of scarce resources, such as AI-powered clinical decision support tools for healthcare staff that can help identify high-risk patients and expedite early identification of cases.
    • A safe environment for health workers also means more remote and digital healthcare services. But remote triaging, telemedicine, and collaboration platforms require infrastructure and connectivity preparedness and healthcare workers’ digital literacy and flexibility to adapt to a fast-paced changing IT scenario.

The story does not end here.

If you want to know more about examples, best practices, and essential guidance, please check out our full report or contact us.

The IDC Health Insights team will continue to work on the role of health IT in the changing scenario of COVID-19. Please contact Silvia Piai, Nino Giguashvili, Adriana Allocato or Giulia Besana for more information or to share your views with us.