The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed healthcare resources to the limits, including the availability of the healthcare staff. In addition, social distancing and self-isolation impede patients visiting their doctors in person. In a time when medical staff is needed the most, technology can help eliminate mundane tasks that derail them from their roles, experts said in a recent webinar.

Raul Rupsingh, chief technology officer of BookJane, underscored the dire need for medical professionals in a recent webinar series hosted by AWS. The healthcare staffing shortage prior to the pandemic has been exacerbated by almost 20 per cent during the peak while the need for care spiked, he says. This puts tremendous stress on hospital staff and reduces the quality of care.

Staffing isn’t only about numbers; hospitals also need to maintain a flexible and balanced staffing ratio. They need to determine whether their staff’s skill set adequately addresses the areas where attention is needed the most.

Traditionally, the hiring process is outsourced to a staffing agency, or hospitals could tap into their own archive of available staff, Rupsingh explains. But that approach is often time-consuming, which is where technology staffing solutions can come to help. BookJane, for example, not only specializes in connecting caregivers based on their qualifications but also takes care of managing their shifts.

Rupsingh says that BookJane has helped the Ontario Medical Association register almost 3,000 doctors in surplus capacity and respond to schedule demands.

“Shortage of caregivers is something we see a lot of, it’s actually number two problem right now after COVID across our customer base, and that was pre-COVID and continues to be applicable,” said Patrick Charbonneau, vice-president of product at AlayaCare and an expert in-home care software.

An established telehealth system can reduce the time spent travelling and increase accessibility. Less time spent on the road means a caregiver can spend more time with patients, and patients who have travel restrictions or live in rural areas can still receive adequate care.

“During a pandemic, you see people pushed into using telemedicine for the first time using online communication tools,” said Rob Lane, chief operations officer at Aetonix Systems. “It’s now the most important initiative, and that complete leadership change and thought change at the top has ramifications throughout the healthcare industry.”

In severe cases, a COVID patient needs 12 to 18 months to recover after leaving the intensive care unit (ICU). During their recovery, they need to communicate their progress with their caregivers to ensure that they stay healthy and that the recovery plan is effective.

“If I have a patient who is stable but needs regular checkups, doing a very quick 10 to 15-minute visit on a daily basis can save a much longer visit, much longer issues down the road,” said Charbonneau.

Remote healthcare must include an administrative role as well. Patients in long-term care need to be able to consult with their caregivers on treatment options as well as finances and care coordination. Patients need to have a transparent overview of what type of treatment they’re paying for.

For those receiving treatment in ICU, meeting with family members in person can be challenging. Noticing that its ICU is rapidly filling up, the United Kingdom implemented a teleconferencing solution developed with Aetonix Systems, Samsung, Google and others. The tool has been deployed in 175 hospitals since its development. Unlike virtual conferencing programs, this tool needed to be compliant with all the regulatory demands of a healthcare environment.

“If you think about the way you initiate a FaceTime call, I’ve got your user content,” said Lane. “We initiate a call, that’s a little bit more difficult when the patient’s laying in ICU, often unconscious, and you now need to initiate a call, secure call with their family.”

But even after the eventually pandemic rolls past, experts agree that telemedicine will remain as an important part of healthcare.

“We definitely feel like virtual care is here to stay,” said Charbonneau. “It was moving in the background. And now it came to the forefront…five years from now, I think we’re going to be moving into this continuum of care.”

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