How digital healthcare tools are changing medicine in Europe since COVID-19

Like in America, the healthcare industry is also making shifts to adopt new, safer hospital practices in response to Covid-19. Since physical contact and proximity present such risks, hospitals are turning to a variety of digital tools in order to meet their care priorities, such as risk reduction and better resource utilization. Having a better understanding of these priorities and what tools hospitals are using now will help us in the health tech industry know what to build for them next.

At Siilo, we believe that putting tried and true technology into the hands of healthcare professionals will result in a higher quality of care for patients down the line. Here are the three major categories of care currently being aided by digital tools: distance diagnoses, internal communications, and external collaborations.

Distance diagnoses
Covid-19 was not the start of the telehealth revolution, but it was certainly a major driver in its widespread adoption this year. While doctors and specialists could not and still cannot see their patients in person, that doesn’t mean people haven’t stopped needing consultations. Moving diagnoses online has been the only option to continue delivering care directly to patients.

Companies like Germany’s Klara are working to put these digital tools at the center of doctor-patient communication all across Europe. Telehealth services provide a variety of benefits: anything from patient portals, where individuals can email their doctors in a secure online environment, to mobile applications, allowing doctors to hold virtual appointments with patients via video call. They can also include the collection of health data, voluntarily given by patients, through the Internet of Things, such as smartwatches, in order to get a more holistic view of the patient’s wellbeing.

Advances in telehealth can certainly ease the burdens on healthcare professionals looking to safely diagnose their patients over digital platforms, but we need to make sure that we are providing products that prioritize data safety. That means designing for GDPR compliance incorporating key features, like passcode protection and device-only data storage.

Internal Communications
The influx of telehealth and digital solutions for communicating with patients has also resulted in a professional counterpart for members of medical institutions, organizations, and associations all across Europe. Beyond the EHRs and secure email servers typically found in hospitals or physicians’ offices, technology is being developed to make communication by modern healthcare professionals more efficient, more secure, and more informative.

People bring their smartphones to work with them, and as such, we see professionals increasingly seeking out mobile tools and applications to simplify their workflows. In particular, professionals are looking for ways to quickly exchange information with each other and their departments at large. My company, Siilo works in this space.

This integration is not seamless, however. Bring-your-own-device policies, such as those found in Germany and France, have been put in place to limit the chances of cross-contaminating patient data and personal information, and increasing digital literacy amongst professionals can be a difficult and time-consuming endeavor. Nevertheless, hospitals and public health institutions should be prepared for a staff-led push to adopt newer technology that simplifies workflows and increases connectivity between colleagues. Messengers are already in use, secure or not, but we need to make a shift from common-use apps to ones designed with healthcare stands in mind, whether they be UK-based Pando, or the German Doctorsgate.

External Collaborations
Patients travel in and out of health institutions all the time, and so does their information. However, moving patient data can be an incredibly time-consuming and frustrating relay race. This is why professionals are actively seeking digital methods to cut down on the number of steps it takes to move one file from one location to another, while still maintaining the data security necessary to protect that data.

We’ve seen that the tools used to simplify communication and connection within hospitals can also be used to streamline the referral and consultation processes with external specialists. Messenger apps, for example, can reduce time spent by allowing specialists, GPs, and hospital staff to contact one another directly to discuss a patient transfer. Building enough of these connections can then facilitate the creation of referral networks, allowing healthcare professionals to effectively distribute patients to colleagues with the bandwidth to properly care for them.

In addition, building the infrastructure for network creation facilitates the sharing of knowledge beyond teams, departments, and even specializations. Professionals can share the most recent research in their fields, discuss national policies, and solicit advice on difficult cases via case-based networks.

Learning from peers in real-time helps to maintain a high quality of care for patients and also strengthens the relationships with colleagues, and building these networks serves the additional purpose of creating a knowledge repository that can be referenced again and again.

User-provider Connectivity
Digital tools are increasingly an essential part of hospital work. We need to continue providing secure, efficient options to healthcare professionals and hospitals in order to facilitate this shift. Those options can take many forms, but above all, those of us in health tech must actively work with modern healthcare professionals to ensure that our solutions match their problems. Only then can we fully capture the power of technology to make an impact on patient care.

Photo: Denys, Getty Images

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