Lessons from an international study on using health IT for COVID-19

Researchers examined how six hospitals in the United States and the United Kingdom used digital health tools in their response to the pandemic.
By Kat Jercich
01:53 PM
A COVId-19 patient in a hospital bed

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The novel coronavirus affected countries – and health systems – all over the world. But not every hospital used health information technology in the same way to address the needs of patients with COVID-19.

In an accepted manuscript published this past week in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, researchers examined how six hospitals with a long history of health information technology use have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic from an HIT perspective.  

"Importantly, the HIT-related responses to COVID-19 were perceived to have further highlighted the value of informaticians for improving care and responding quickly to emergent needs," wrote the researchers.  


The researchers found a number of themes emerging in the ways health systems from the United States and the United Kingdom used IT during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One major theme was the need to manage an unusually high number of patients, coupled with the strain on resources such as medication. This necessitated "rapid and responsive" changes to health systems, such as expediting governance processes and using electronic health records to forecast which wards would soon be reaching capacity.   

Hospitals also used health IT to improve treatment accuracy and effectiveness. Some sites did so by making all relevant information easily accessible and viewable to providers, and by building patient information from multiple systems into clinical decision support messages.   

A third theme focused on negating infection risk.  

"Across all study sites, EHRs and related technologies played a major role in identifying COVID-19 positive patients, coordinating isolation units, and minimizing infection risk to both providers and patients being treated for other conditions," the researchers wrote.  

The study noted, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the sites ramped up telehealth usage, particularly for nonessential outpatient appointments.  

"Similarly, using technology to facilitate minimal-contact ward rounds within hospital was implemented in multiple sites, which reduced the need to use personal protective equipment, and mitigated risk of infection to providers," wrote the research team.  


Using digital health tools to help predict patient capacity has been a major strategy for health systems, particularly at the start of the pandemic.

As resource needs have shifted, so has the response to them, with hospitals seeking analytics, EHR integration and automation for healthier supply chains.  


"Our interview data point to the value of a combination of responsive governance, EHRs and accompanying technologies to reduce burden of care, decrease discharge time, drug shortages and health worker exposure," wrote the researchers.

"As COVID-19 continues to be at the forefront of global healthcare priorities, more health systems can begin to consider how best to utilize HIT in the fight against the disease," they continued.


Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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