Can automation resolve the issue of shortages in hospital equipment, infrastructure and human resources?

In its latest Global Healthcare Vision Study, Zebra Technologies’ Smarter, More Connected Hospitals report highlighted the rising need for intelligent workflow automation in hospitals.

89% of executive decision-makers and 83% of clinicians surveyed agreed that real-time intelligence is essential for optimal patient care. That’s why hospitals are increasingly investing in clinical mobility tools, real-time location systems (RTLS) and intelligent workflow solutions to support smarter, more connected workflows.

However, despite the stronger commitment and recognition of technological innovations in healthcare, more than two-thirds (67%) of hospital executives still do not feel their organizations are investing enough to maximize staff efficiency and more must be done moving forward.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in Asia Pacific, we see countries like Indonesia and Malaysia face issues such as shortages of healthcare equipment and infrastructure, which highlights the importance of adopting a proactive approach when it comes to solving healthcare challenges and transforming the sector.

What and how can hospitals do more? DigiconAsia discussed the issue with Johnny Ong, APAC Healthcare Practice Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific, to discover how healthcare systems in the region can strive to become more resilient – in an era where we see many cases of healthcare workers experiencing fatigue and burnout.

Johnny Ong, APAC Healthcare Practice Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many cases of healthcare workers experiencing fatigue and burnout. How should healthcare systems in APAC strive to become more resilient in dealing with crises?

Ong: With the pandemic being drawn out, healthcare workers in Asia Pacific (APAC) and all around the world are facing burnout and fatigue. Healthcare systems in countries like Singapore and Indonesia are reported to be overworked and in dire need of support.

In enhancing resilience, healthcare systems in APAC can implement a smarter, more connected ecosystem. According to Zebra’s Global Healthcare Vision Study, 55% of clinicians reported connecting hospital systems for better communication between workers is a top operational challenge. Today, hospitals realize the importance of employing a holistic approach to technology investments, bringing together a single cohesive system with unified solutions that make it easy to connect with colleagues, equipment, and information.

A holistic approach can be achieved through implementing intelligent workflow automation and using purpose-built mobility solutions to drive manageability. This could mean extending mobile device usage across all points of care from clinical departments to non-clinical ones, increasing supply chain transparency. Healthcare staff can then keep track of the location and status of assets, people, and equipment, bringing forth smarter real-time decisions.

While technology is an enabler, healthcare systems need to be underpinned by the right culture and management systems. A workplace that encourages a deep culture of support and teamwork can help channel the passion of healthcare professionals to move towards unified systems and adopt solutions that will help meet and improve patient care during these times.

In what ways are APAC organizations leading in embracing technology innovations in healthcare?

Ong: Our Global Healthcare Vision Study found out that the APAC region often leads in the adoption of new technology, with healthcare being no exception. The same study also found that 97% of decision-makers and 83% of clinicians agree that technology helps prevent medical errors, showing that APAC organizations are aware of the benefits of technology and are looking towards adopting technology solutions at varying speeds.

Healthcare systems in APAC are leading the charge in embracing technology, including countries such as Australia, China, and Singapore, which use digital health solutions in patient diagnosis, treatment, remote patient monitoring, and consultation.

The pandemic has indefinitely created a new need for contactless and remote healthcare solutions. In Singapore, for example, robotics is being used to increase precision and diagnostics power. At Changi General Hospital (CGH), 50 of its staff members are actual robots, which carry out various tasks from administrative work to performing surgery. Embracing innovative technology can expand capacity and reduce errors while allowing healthcare staff to safely and effectively care and interact with patients while mitigating risks of viral transmission.

China’s JD Health launched a “family doctor” service based on an “internet + healthcare” model. This includes services such as 24/7 online medical consultation support with immediate response from a general practitioner, medical consultation with experts within 48 hours, making face-to-face appointments with doctors from top-tier hospitals, getting constant and personalized health management advice and more. With telemedicine offerings and innovation, this approach has significantly increased efficiency across all points of care – patients, doctors, hospitals, and retailers.

How effective have clinical mobility and real-time intelligence been for hospitals aiming to better manage resources? What more should be done for even better results?

Ong: Clinical mobility and real-time intelligence have empowered healthcare systems to manage the supply chain, locate critical equipment and assets, and orchestrate emergency and operating room logistics. The study found that clinical mobility has been helping in numerous ways with practical advantages. Clinicians and decision-makers agree that clinical mobility increases medical workflow accuracy and precision (85%), reduces preventable errors (84%) and boosts the accuracy of supplies tracking and inventory management (82%).

Healthcare mobility manufacturers are also integrating essential new capabilities into the devices — like global positioning system (GPS) locationing technologies, barcode scanning, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers and more — with the hospital experience in mind. With real-time intelligence and tracking solutions in-built into mobile devices, hospitals can provide quality patient care, moving from reactive processes to responsive and predictive systems. More predictive operations allow for greater visibility in assigning tasks and equipment to the right person at the right time. It has increased efficiency while reducing medical errors. 

The success in better management ultimately still lies in streamlining hospital workflows. Hospitals need to assess and identify solutions that can deliver healthcare business and analytics at each point of care to ensure that healthcare organisations can leverage the real-time data to make the most timely and informed decisions.

What’s your outlook for the rise of transformative healthcare such as telehealth and remote patient tracking in the coming years?

Ong: The pandemic has changed the future of healthcare indefinitely. Zebra’s Global Healthcare Vision study highlighted that technology trends such as telehealth, remote patient tracking devices, real-time health platforms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are expected to transform the industry over the next five years. With most countries going out of lockdown and embracing a policy of living with the virus and managing its spread, such services are crucial to ensure patients are getting the proper care and services possible, safely. Telehealth thus offers a bridge to reinvent the virtual /in-person care model and has since evolved to weigh in consumer experience, access, and affordability.

On top of this, with the prolonged remote working and longer working hours, people in APAC have also been experiencing immense mental health struggles in the form of chronic stress and burnout. In recent years, mental health has been a growing health priority. Governments in APAC need to build up their capabilities to meet this demand, with better social and institutional support and access to professional help.

Therefore, it is crucial that technologies such as telehealth and real-time health platforms can provide a community of care and access for people seeking help for physical ailments and mental health issues. Businesses can also look at accelerating plans for employee mental well-being, including work-from-home support programmes that can tie in with remote care services.