Kelly Feist is managing director at Ascom Americas.
Across healthcare and beyond, we’ve seen a myriad of adaptations in response to the global pandemic. In particular, the strong and rapid adoptions of processes like sanitization and new developments around making everything contactless, from office procedures to technology itself, should become mainstays.
Because of these trends, hospital leadership should understand patients’ new expectations and how to meet those expectations while providing the recommended conditions in terms of sanitization.
How clean is clean enough?
Administrators, medical staff and patients were asking that question during the early days of the pandemic. Hand sanitizer, soap, personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies shot to the top of procurement lists and all were in short supply. Hospital staff spent extra time disinfecting rooms and high-touch surfaces, essential to-dos to limit the spread of infection. We saw processes, like handwashing, tightening given that handwashing remains the best way to reduce hospital infections and yet reports show doctors and nurses wash their hands half as much as they should. Wearable technology can help track and reinforce compliance, especially as it becomes integrated into other workflows that focus on improving the quadruple aim, as I wrote about in a previous article.
Sanitization isn’t just about hands, masks and rooms — the technical terms are “individual and space sanitization.” It includes “objects,” too, so picture the silverware from a patient’s meal, the gown and even the infrastructure of the room. For example, some hospitals during the pandemic were able to make structural changes that included HVAC systems that allowed patient rooms on entire floors to operate under negative pressure, when needed. All these carry a cost from materials and labor that have been absorbed by the healthcare system. These increasing costs are across the board, not just in healthcare. Recent research suggests that Covid-inspired cleaning and safety standards will add costs across many industries, including roughly $9 billion in incremental expense to the hotel industry. These costs, at least part of them, are being passed to us as consumers.
It begs the questions, going forward, what level of clean will be hardwired into our expectations and requirements? How much is it going to cost us, and hospitals, out of operating margins and labor pools?
Given hospitals are measured and reimbursed by how well they limit infection, I see a lot of these increased measures continuing beyond the worst of the pandemic. The level of deep cleaning may lessen somewhat but it will be, on average, higher than pre-pandemic, and technology will facilitate staff adhering to the best practices. I believe PPE is here to stay for providers and patients in healthcare and for high volume, indoor public places like mass transit.
Redefining The Care Experience With Less Contact
Pre-pandemic retail led the way in contactless services with curbside pickup. This happened as the industry was already shifting to a hybrid model driven by the rise of online shopping. Now, the old way in a brick-and-mortar-only mode is a deal-breaker for winning business. I believe healthcare will soon too face the same expectations as more people become consumers of healthcare and approach their selection in the same personalized way they would buy the right pair of sneakers.
Retail’s customer journey is healthcare’s patient experience. Technology is helping drive this more personalized experience by reducing contact and improving processes to provide a better level of care. We’ve seen adaptations at all points: contactless check-in, drive-thru Covid self-testing, staggering appointments to reduce the number of people in a waiting room, reducing the number of staff patients see, lengthening the time between patient visits, telemedicine and tracking population health with wearable devices.
To move to contactless technologies and wearables, hospital administration and technology users should have an implementation mindset rather than the installation of individual technologies. By thinking holistically about the patient experience and the impact the technology drives, they can get the best results. Many of my company’s customers have had success, for example, by piloting new experiences and then rolling them out to larger populations after they’ve deployed a test, learn, grow approach.
Also, don’t underestimate the change management work that must be done when moving an organization to a new way of doing things. Ensuring the users of the technology solutions are part of the decision-making process goes a long way in increasing adoption. Organizations should also review any relevant data, so they can make improvements in their processes and/or practices as they go along.
Going forward, what will patients expect? I believe patients will expect an integrated, predictive and personalized experience that focuses on their well-being so that they get the right level of care in the right setting at the right time. This shift to treating health as an ongoing opportunity for health systems instead of an acute moment of treatment parallels the way consumers interact with the brands they know and trust. And return to.