The need for healthcare virtualisation amid a global pandemic

In times of a global pandemic, where human and physical resources are stretched to the limit, operators and services providers in the healthcare ecosystem need to find ways to virtualise the delivery of healthcare, while trying to sustain business as usual.

 Virtualisation in healthcare is in essence the transformation of a healthcare business from a paper-heavy to paperless or paper-lite environment, enabling care providers to provide virtual healthcare services to their patients.

 Notably, virtualising the healthcare ecosystem provides greater access, portability, and ease of delivery of healthcare services. For example, accessing a patient Electronic Health Record virtually removes the risk of relying on incorrect and duplicate paper records, and provides the additional benefit of allowing care providers to manage their patients remotely.

 Furthermore, virtualising the healthcare environment interoperates service delivery in every type of business unit for clinical care and back office functions.

 Virtualisation of healthcare is key to containing the current pandemic. In hindsight, little did we know that “healthcare” would become the fundamental precursor for humans returning to some degree of a normal life, as the battle against the global pandemic continues.

 The benefits of virtualisation

Virtualisation can help hospitals:

  • Create a mobile/remote workforce to manage back office and administrative functions,
  • Maintain communication and review of patients’ and workforces’ state of health, as well as have the ability to track and trace patients,
  • Streamline the procure-to-pay cycle for required medical supplies, and
  • Ensure connectivity through virtual networking, hence allowing healthcare integrated delivery networks to still function optimally.

 Healthcare facilities that fail to virtualise their operations, especially during a global pandemic where resources are exhausted, face several potential challenges that could hamper their ability to operate and offer patient care. This is especially as – even during a time of crisis – operators and services providers must continue to find ways to virtualise the delivery of healthcare, while sustaining their business models.

 Risks related to a non-virtualised healthcare ecosystem include:

  • Limited access to healthcare facilities’ care providers and their connectivity to patients,
  • Limited access to mission critical medical supplies and equipment, which puts patients at risk of not receiving treatment, and
  • Operating in silos and with limited resource capacity, which hampers the ability to conduct business as usual.

In what is a truly alarming reality, we have seen some hospitals that operate a paper-based environment experience a reduction of occupancy and revenue of at least 55% in the past four weeks, as they simply cannot cope with the inherent lockdown requirements that have created the need to work virtually.

 Historically expensive

The cost of virtualising healthcare has historically been influenced by the high total cost of ownership of information technology solutions and infrastructure. For years, hospitals and clinics were forced to operate a paper-heavy business, because they could not justify the IT budget relative to patient care and adequate profitability.

 However, with the advent cloud computing and the Internet of Things, the transition to virtualising IT solutions and services has allowed our country’s healthcare facilities to develop digital health transformation strategies that aspire to international best practice and interoperate seamlessly.

 The past few years have seen South Africa’s healthcare sector truly arrive on the virtualisation scene, as an increasing number of local healthcare organisations are pushing to transition to more virtualised care, but there is still some way to go.

 Although this is a bad period for mankind, we should use this tremendous gift of solitude and social distancing to reinvent the lens through which we look at how things are done. It is time that we, as South Africans in healthcare, catch up to the rest of the world.

By Shiraaz Joosub, Healthcare Sales Executive, T-Systems South Africa

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