Technology

WATCH | Healthcare experts eye rapid digitization with Cisco

In Cisco’s second installment of Navigating The Shift, healthcare industry experts discuss how the industry changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the panel were Makati Medical Center CIO Kristian Sumabat, ChongHua Hospital Vice President for IT James Indino, Jr., Department of Health Director of Knowledge Management and IT Services Dr. Enrique Tayag, AllCare CEO Cindy Burdette, and Cisco Industry Advisor for Healthcare (ASEAN) Kenan Yorucu.

The Healthcare Industry is between a rock and a hard place: grappling with providing services to individuals, most providers struggle with business continuity. As the COVID-19 crisis clearly shows, hospitals are not pandemic-proof. Individuals not exposed to the virus are weary of seeking healthcare. Apart from the fear of exposure in hospitals, people are also weary of the financial strain and income unpredictability.

Currently, public hospitals delegate 30% bed capacity for COVID-19 patients, while their counterparts only delegate 20%. This greatly limits services, particularly for government-funded facilities, while also having to increase their capacity.

“It’s a difficult time for hospitals. When public hospitals had to decide whether they’re going to limit or expand their services, they had to make a decision. This will require changes in management of hospital systems, information systems, human resources and logistics,” explained Department of Health’s Dr. Enrique Tayag. “For hospitals that falter, they had to look at their systems and seriously look at they future. There is no guarantee because of these uncertainties.”

Business sustainability for hospitals is a recurring theme with the panelists. According to Sumabat, healthcare services for non-COVID patients have significantly decreased, negatively impacting cash inflow and the hospitals’ ability to fund and sustain operations.

“Most of the patients who do not have, or are not suspected of, COVID-19 are avoiding hospitals. So right now, there’s a very big shift in terms of volume of patients coming in, which affects the revenue and sustainability. Hence, we are trying our best to adapt to those changes through implementation of technology, changing procedures and, in general, changing our mindset and strategies,” says Sumabat.

Healthcare providers were pushed to pivot their model to continue serving clients. Digitization has been particularly important, especially since clinicians are also weary of going to hospitals for consultations. As a result, telemedecine was quickly adapted. Most providers invested in technology to limit person-to-person contact.

“It’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of when”.. We’ve been using Cisco as our core wireless connectivity partner for several years now and we’re very happy with how agile their platform is, and how it’s moved from being a network to a provider.. Currently in Makati Medical Center, we’ve harnessed a lot of data from COVID-positive patients.. We used these analytic insights in terms of policy changes,” explains Sumabat. “We’re learning what business models might continue to work despite the pandemic.. We’re rapidly evolving our hospital services to adapt to these changes.”

The same trend is happening in Visayas, according to James Indino Jr., “Digitization has spread quickly because of COVID-19. We’ve not tried to go digital as fast as we can. Registration online before you see your doctor is a must. Booking appointments is also done online before you go to the hospital. Even the payment mechanism right now, we’re really trying to advocate cashless payment.”

The public’s new consciousness of health-awareness was also a factor in changing the healthcare industry’s model, particularly for HMOs. Unpredictability of the pandemic’s duration changed the way insurance providers look at risk. They also had to address the elephant in the room: Should healthcare insurance providers cover RT-PCR testing?

“For us in AllCare, it’s not actually a matter of ‘Are we going to cover it?’ but more of ‘Can we find a group that can make this happen at the most affordable rate, at the fastest way possible, using technology?,” explains Burdette. “You can really see the impact (of COVID-19) – the increased awareness and consciousness about health. But there is a need to answer that in a very transformative way.”

Teleconferencing solutions eased the burden on hospitals. As more patients opt to seek healthcare in the comfort of their own home, remote consultations help decrease overcrowding in facilities.

However, the rapid shift to digital technology was not smooth-sailing. Problems in cybersecurity and infrastructure immediately arose. As patient data moves from paper to electronic, hospitals are constantly in danger of Ransomware attacks. This requires a delicate balance between software/hardware usability and security.

“Cybersecurity is the top of mind for a lot of people. We’re seeing a lot of hospitals starting to use location services. Healthcare is a natural target and cyberattacks are on the rise. We know the cost of healthcare breaches are high for organizations,” says Yorucu.

Cisco is one of the of the leading security providers in the world, with security solutions integrated in each technology platform. Yorucu assures that these practices are applied in telemedicine software and hardware, to prevent malware and Ransomware attacks.

Infrastructure is another concern for the industry. As hospital services are rapidly digitised, technology and connectivity have to be on-par. As Dr. Tayag puts it, “That’s our problem with connectivity, IT infrastructure, and now, in education. Everybody has this blended adoption of technologies. So therefore, in the Department of Health, we have to be agile.”

Private and public health sectors are working together to bridge the gap. Cisco has been working with hospitals to install video end points. They’ve also tapped the Institute of Field Robotics in Thailand. By first improving connectivity, they are working to enable increased use of robots in hospitals.

“We’ve been working with Cisco on finding solutions for this pandemic,” said Dr. Tayag. “We’re already highly integrated with Artificial Intelligence. We have AI-supported chat-bots on social media, helping patients with necessary information. We also use AI for data analytics and prediction models.”

Watch the 2nd episode of Cisco’s Navigating the Shift entitled “After the curve: A Spotlight on Healthcare” here:

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