The events of the past two years have affected hospitals and healthcare providers disproportionately. Approaching the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic has required innovation and creativity, as well as flexibility and agility. As we move towards the end of the year, healthcare, continues to be in a state of flux as providers learn valuable lessons and adapt their models of care in response to the rapid changes.

At Connected Health, we have identified three major trends that emerged in 2021 and three trends that will come to the fore in 2022 and beyond.

1. Leveraging technology to reduce physical contact

Australia’s response to COVID-19 was arguably one of the more successful examples—especially in comparison to the United States, the United Kingdom, and countries across Europe—with lower numbers of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths recorded. As reported by McKinsey, as of 1 December 2020, Australia had recorded 1,095 COVID-19 cases per million, compared to the United States and the United Kingdom’s numbers at 41,453 cases per million and 24,264 cases per million respectively.[1] This was more than a matter of good luck, although closing our international borders and leveraging Australia’s geographical advantage as an island nation did contribute. However, healthcare providers played a crucial role in anticipating, responding to, and managing this public health crisis.

Most organisations benefited substantially from the implementation of digital systems for telehealth, infection monitoring and control, contact tracing, and more. Hospitals focused on ways to keep workers connected and supported even when they were working in intensive care units (ICU) and COVID-19 units with cumbersome personal protective equipment (PPE) that made it hard for them to come and go easily.

Using technology to reduce the amount of physical contact between people was a necessary and valuable part of this response. Hospitals chose devices that were robust and purpose-built and could be effectively cleaned and sanitised to minimise infection spread.

2. Digitising key workflows

COVID-19 had the potential to make hospitals exponentially busier places, creating a need for more effective workflows and less focus on paper-based administration. Even now, two years into the pandemic, healthcare organisations and medical associations like the Australian Medical Association of Queensland (AMAQ) are still making calls for the government to add 1,500 more beds and hire and train more staff to keep hospitals fully functional seven days a week to keep up with the demand from the pandemic. AMAQ also recommends hospitals operate at below 90 per cent capacity to allow for surges, as well as suggesting state and federal governments find alternative entries for patients to access hospital care, rather than relying on emergency departments.[2]

Introducing smart devices is one solution that has empowered healthcare providers to digitalise many workflows and processes, reducing the amount of time staff members needed to spend in front of computers and increasing the time they could spend with patients.

The use of digital patient records and telehealth initiatives minimised the amount of physical contact required and ensured that everyone had access to the information they needed to deliver good outcomes.

3. New systems, processes and working practices

Hospitals and other healthcare providers have always realised the importance of clear and immediate communication. One of the responses to the coronavirus pandemic was to modernise their approach to communications, specifically moving away from the myriad devices on their ‘toolbelts’ and overhead announcements, towards more integrated, holistic methods of communication. This is because established channels can become cluttered with unnecessary information for the treating team and create alarm fatigue, only provide one-way communication and may not provide adequate services in an emergency.

Consequently, pagers are increasingly being replaced with purpose-built, two-way communication devices that reduce alarm fatigue and patient disruption, and ensure workers get the information they need, when they need it, thus improving overall outcomes.

Hospitals also worked to reduce the number of employee-owned smart devices in use due to the infection risk they pose. Consumer-grade smartphones can’t be cleaned as thoroughly and effectively as purpose-built devices, and the virus can live on these surfaces for several days.[3] As a result, more hospitals chose purpose-built devices to deliver a desirable user experience while streamlining access to the apps and services hospital workers require.

Trends for 2022

1. New forms of communication

One of the most effective tools in the communications arsenal today is a smart device running relevant, purpose-built, healthcare applications. Leveraging these in a hospital environment can help ensure that staff can effectively communicate with each other about patients, emergencies, and hospital updates without adding undue stress to patients.

2. Reducing overhead paging for a quiet environment for patient recovery

Hospitals are inherently noisy environments. Patients identify noise made by nurses and medical staff providing clinical care a main contributing factor, which can disrupt sleep and, in turn, have adverse effects on recovery and rehabilitation. [4],[5] Similarly, research indicates that hospital staff are susceptible to noise-induced stress leading to exhaustion and irritability. One of the leading causes of this is ‘alarm fatigue’, with data suggesting between 72 and 99 per cent of clinical alarms are false alarms.[6]

Aside from the noise of extensive foot traffic, the hospital environment itself can be full of loud noises from bedside monitors, pagers, and overhead public address (PA) systems. Hospitals will look to move to a quieter environment to improve patient outcomes.

This will include switching from overhead paging to a smartphone-based communication system where alarms and notifications are sent directly to the relevant person’s (or people’s) purpose-built mobile devices. This dramatically reduces ambient noise while having the additional benefit of providing more detailed, relevant information to appropriate staff members.

Direct messaging ensures the right information is being sent to the right people, with customised tones and flexible volumes to ensure messages aren’t missed in a sea of loudspeaker announcements.

3. New health technology will continue to evolve

Telehealth has become a permanent feature of healthcare in the wake of the pandemic, with the Australian government investing $106 million over four years to strengthen its support for patients accessing telehealth services, and to ensure greater flexibility for the delivery of health care.[7] The ways in which this service is delivered will continue to evolve, with video conferencing and other types of virtual visits making it easier for patients to access medical care from anywhere.

Healthcare will also become even more data-driven, with increasing amounts of data being collected by wearable devices and electronic medical health records. Applying artificial intelligence to analyse this data will yield actionable insights that can be tailored for individual outcomes and/or to improve public health more generally.

Super-fast 5G networks will drive even more powerful mobile apps that clinicians and other healthcare workers can use to provide a better patient experience. This will dramatically speed up testing, diagnosis, communication, training, and more. Improving patient monitoring through wearable or mobile 5G-enabled technology could lead to vastly improved patient outcomes. 5G will also make emerging concepts such as robotic surgery more reliable and realistic by delivering more robust, ultra-high-speed networks.

Hospital and healthcare organisations need to carefully consider the right solutions and vendors to meet their current and future communication needs. It’s important to choose a vendor that is compatible with the other vendors in the organisation’s current ecosystem, which will ensure all systems remain interconnected and secure.

To find out how Connected Health, powered by Wavelink, can help your hospital or healthcare facility securely leverage new and emerging technologies for significantly improved processes, experiences, and outcomes, contact the team today.