Managing seasonal challenges of patient demand

By Wayne Miller, Healthcare Director EMEA, Zebra Technologies

The healthcare sector often struggles to keep up with the increase in patients needing care as we enter the winter season.

It’s not just the flu. This is reflective of a wider endemic, with the global healthcare industry facing a number of challenges – from aging populations and staff shortages to rising costs.

Research shows intense winter festive periods such as New Year bring a huge spike in pressure for healthcare staff.

In the UK, the seasonal challenge is well recognised; more than half of doctors surveyed in a 2017 research said hospital delays due to winter pressures led to avoidable emergency admissions among their patients.

Healthcare’s technological resolution

The global increase of pressure on institutions, doctors, workers, patients and communities has led to higher demand for services and support that is not sustainable with existing resources and methods.

Hospitals are increasingly turning to technology and clinical mobility to reduce the strain on an already fragile system. For them to combat these pain points, they need to tackle the winter period head on and the best way to do so is to address where improvements in efficiencies can be made. This needs to start with patients.

Every single birth generates a patient record, which forms the bedrock of future diagnosis and treatment. Then, with every subsequent visit, no matter what age or complaint, these records are updated and maintained to give doctors the most current information.

Historically these records have been compiled manually, using paper and pen and stored in huge filing archives, meaning any updates and cross referencing was dependent on humans. While these records hold crucial information, paper and pen can lead to missed diagnosis or complications, errors and missed opportunities. Moving from paper and pen to a modern positive patient identity management solution can and will help institutions create a more reliable digital chain of custody.

This digital chain of custody does not allow for these types of human error. By using barcodes and affixing them to medical records, doctors and nurses can use mobile scanners and mobile computer devices to interpret records more efficiently and effectively. Taking this a step further, by affixing barcodes to medication removes the need to write on a cylinder, ensuring correct treatments are administered while wrong ones are flagged immediately.

Nurses see the benefits, too. Zebra’s 2022 Hospital Vision Study shows that 61 per cent of nurses reported reduced medication administration errors when using mobile medical devices. And 97 per cent of nurses say they plan to have a mobile device at the bedside by 2022, an increase of 38 per cent than currently do. Patients are also happy to see technological improvements. Of those surveyed, 77 per cent of patients said they are feeling positive about clinicians using mobile devices for care.

Here in the region, Mediclinic Middle East, one of the UAE’s largest private healthcare groups, has also partnered with Zebra to provide a full range of healthcare solutions for its new Parkview Hospital in Dubai. This package includes solutions to improve patient identification and increase visibility of medication and clinical mobility allowing them to focus on patient care.

The solutions don’t just need to focus on patients. By opening up solutions to staff, equipment and management, hospitals can build a database and in return, get a single ‘pane of glass’ view over their entire estate.

Hospital staff would be provided with a clearer vision of availability over staff and equipment, allowing them greater insights into internal operations and helping to better plan resourcing and deliverables without impacting patient care. Hospitals would also be able to keep a much more detailed eye over equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines or wheelchairs, ensuring there aren’t lengthy waiting times for either.

Finally, hospital management can better use the database and analytics to manage the facility as a whole. This includes having insight over the minutiae of utility bills and rotations to understanding longer term resourcing issues and, with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), predicting spikes and dips in activity as well as likely hotspots for issues. This would not only improve patient care and conditions for staff but also improve the bottom line.

Creating better healthcare

The winter weather, celebrations and yearlong pressure can build up and as November, December and January approach, healthcare institutions can be hit with a variety of pain points. However, just like paper and pen, this can be a thing of the past. Hospitals and healthcare institutions around the world are already adopting solutions that can make the festive period and the winter challenges more manageable, less stressful and cost effective. Combine this with providing better patient care, and medical institutions have found an antidote to the winter doldrums.