Technology must be simple to use to solve complex problems
June 30, 2022
As we enter our third year of the global pandemic, healthcare organizations are evaluating vulnerabilities and identifying opportunities to improve upon nearly every aspect of current business and care models.
For example, the shortage of nurses has forced conversations about how to more effectively attract and train new talent without compromising safety or integrity.
There are also efforts to automate workflows to augment the workforce, much like what we’re seeing in manufacturing, warehousing, and retail environments.
In addition, hospital administrators and clinicians – who typically remain focused on what’s happening within their four walls – are now actively engaged in supply chain management discussions. The shipping capacity and speed of medical supplies and equipment directly impacts their operational capacity and speed.
It has been remarkable to see the level of collaboration occurring across the healthcare community, extending from production facilities to retail pharmacies, and hospitals to long-term care facilities. Everyone is trying to figure out how to do more with less and, more importantly, how we can progress healthcare to a point where we aren’t having to barter and beg for people, supplies, space, or equipment.
Transformation: This creativity, though borne out of necessity, is giving credence to a long-standing belief that healthcare must transform.
In a recent global study conducted by Zebra, hospital decision-makers and clinicians agreed that technology can be transformative to healthcare over the next five years. Care models can become more predictive, workflows can become more automated, and patients can enjoy more personalized and elevated experiences that help to speed recovery and reduce return visits. We’ve heard stories of rapid innovation in the face of adversity and become hopeful that hospitals, pharmacies, imaging centers, and medical device factories have become truly “intelligent enterprises.”
A second global study of the pharmaceutical supply chain, conducted in 2021, provided further reassurance that end-to-end technology investments are being made to increase operational transparency, accountability, efficiency, and speed to address drug quality, safety, and availability concerns.
Cloud solutions: The move to smarter, more connected healthcare systems and supply chains could be mired in complexity – and our journey to a sustainable digital health system could be completely derailed – without a commitment to simplicity.
It’s important to choose hardware and software platforms that can be implemented, managed, secured, accessed, and/or scaled remotely.
By shifting to a cloud-based ecosystem, we make it easy to keep people and information systems online and in sync, no matter where they are physically or virtually located. It also becomes simple to adapt both standalone and interconnected technology platforms to accommodate evolving workflows.
We no longer need to physically rip and replace every time we want to add new features or functionality. Simple software updates pushed over the air – or by remote IT managers – can get the job done.
Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing more hospital decision-makers deploy enterprise-grade mobile solutions than they did five years ago. They’re thinking about what it will take to innovate in an agile manner over the next five years as real-time locationing, workflow automation, and predictive analytics tools are introduced to utilize data on hand to make better decisions.
Justifying investments: Hospital and pharmaceutical supply chain leaders may have big technology spending plans for 2022 and beyond. But if the resource burden outweighs the benefits to staff or patients, there will be reluctance to follow through.
Fortunately, everything from mobile computers, barcode scanners and printers to RFID, machine vision, analytics and robotics automation systems are now being designed – or redesigned – with simplicity at the forefront.
For example, RFID sleds can be attached as accessories to mobile computers so that staff can instantly read thousands of RFID tags within a predefined range. There’s even off-the-shelf software and read-to-cloud RFID application interfaces that allow RFID to be deployed as a solution in hospitals, drug stores and pharmacies without any on-premise infrastructure needed.
Diversity, inclusion and recruitment: Technically, someone who has never worked in manufacturing could successfully conduct quality control inspections their first day on the job because machine vision systems automate the decision process. By removing human subjectivity from the equation, specialized skill sets and perfect eyesight are no longer requirements for the job. This expands the labour pool, improving recruitment success, while increasing workers’ success, aiding in retention.
Likewise, clinicians are more apt to adopt new technology solutions that can lighten their workload when they feel familiar or easy to use. If the user interface on an enterprise mobile computer looks like the one on their personal smartphones, they won’t get as frustrated by having to learn new software.
And they’ll appreciate the prescriptive nature of certain apps or the simplicity of single-button task actions, such as positive patient identification. When clinicians feel their jobs are easy, they’ll be more likely to get on board – and they’ll be less likely to leave.
Integrating modern tools into legacy healthcare systems may seem like a challenge. But it will significantly simplify healthcare management and improve access to the quality jobs, supplies, and medical care needed to benefit the well-being of staff, patients, and society.
Rikki Jennings, BSN, RN, CPN, is chief nursing informatics officer with Zebra Technologies.