Data is the key to handling future variants

4 minute read

When health resources are constrained, automated communication and remote monitoring will help.

Throughout the pandemic, it’s been extremely difficult for people seeking reassurance, information or care to navigate the ever-changing restrictions and guidelines around testing, isolation and treatment.

Omicron has created an extremely challenging situation at a time when healthcare demand already outstrips capacity, with overburdened nurses, staff shortages and a lack of beds. The more-infectious variant highlighted these constraints and our health system’s limited ability to scale. While thankfully we have passed the peak of the Omicron wave, the need to be able to increase capacity when the next wave hits isn’t going to go away.

Some hospitals in Australia and overseas have stood out as exemplars of scalability. These systems have used data and remote monitoring technologies to ensure effective management of covid cases, and in doing so, have provided empathetic care while protecting their staff from burnout. Armed with these technologies, hospitals have helped frontline workers focus care on the highest-risk patients, manage the supply surge, appropriately manage labour resources, and ultimately, create a sustainable course.

Vast amounts of data on covid patients have been collected around the world. Insights from this data are being used by hospitals to highlight high-risk patients and direct resources to those likely to need it most. For patients who are managing well and don’t need to occupy a hospital bed, hospitals are incorporating technologies such as business process automation and remote monitoring to communication with patients and monitor their progress remotely.

This type of data-driven patient communication is well accepted by patients and has the potential to massively relieve the burden on Australia’s health system, not just for covid, but for the myriad health services our health system provides. Unnecessary hospital or clinic visits, missed appointments, patient readmissions, and a lack of care plan adherence pose a significant drain on healthcare resources and are sources of healthcare waste and provider stress. By providing patients with alternative communication channels for managing care remotely, healthcare organisations can better manage patient volumes, optimise recovery from procedures, and as the evidence demonstrates, even improve patient outcomes.

Patient engagement is becoming a priority for most Australian health systems, and quite rightly so. Engaged patients consume less resources and achieve better outcomes. The challenge has been how to effectively engage with patients when a hospital’s resources are constrained. Automated communication and remote monitoring are well accepted by patients when they are used to augment, not replace, direct care.

When patients are connected with health care in this way, they are empowered to take charge of their care through personalised reminders and smarter self-monitoring. Patients gain digital access anytime and anywhere it’s needed, and information tailored to their personal medical history and care requirements. These include advice on what to do across a broad range of scenarios, such as hypertension management, surgical preparation, pregnancy care, appointment adherence and more. People in Australia can therefore stay on track with their own care requirements, limiting the need for additional hospital and clinic visits and reducing the likelihood for readmission and dissatisfaction.

It’s a win-win model that frees valuable resources and improves outcomes. Recent examples in the US have demonstrated that data-driven patient engagement can reduce patient re-admissions by 38 per cent (saving about $20,000 per re-admission) and shorten length of stay by 30 per cent (saving about $2,600 a day).

Data-driven automated patient engagement improves access to care, from appointment reminders and personalised care plan instructions, to reminders on medication dosage and chronic care management. Insights from these digital interactions can also provide care teams with the crucial information needed to provide optimal patient care to Australians.

The use of automated patient engagement tools could have been used to reduce the burden of self-discovery for people by sending this information on request directly to a person’s phone via secure messaging.

It’s still unclear what future variants we’ll have to contend with, and if we are, as so many hope, past the worst of this pandemic, other pandemics will challenge us some day. Investing in the right tools now and learning to better engage with patients will help stave off the worst of this and yield better healthcare practices overall throughout our health systems.

David Dembo is Australia and New Zealand Director at Health Catalyst, which provides data and analytics technology and services to healthcare organisations

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