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SARS-COV-2 is not the first virus to havoc the world’s population, but it’s the first pandemic of the 21st-century and, as such, history has proven that fundamental changes in society have always followed catastrophe. In this understanding, one of the areas has shown the most urgent need for immediate and medium-term transformation in healthcare systems.

Because for now, our health system is exhausted not just because of the pandemic but because of all collateral damage that the virus is leaving in its path and consequences hidden behind the news of its collapse, contagions, and deaths but worrying as it is the delays in surgical procedures and postponed consultations.

Just the Valencian Community in Spain, one of the most affected regions in this third wave, these figures reach 60,000 surgical procedures postponed and 1.3 million specialist consultations on hold.

Although ventilators, personal protective equipment, and materials for COVID treatment will not be lacking on this occasion, the increase in numbers of beds for critical patients and the care of the sanitary personnel are having a remarkably high cost that affects the possibility of treatment of other pathologies. In fact, as Fernando García, provincial president of CSIF Healthcare, told to La Provincias News: “When the pandemic normalizes, we are going to have another serious health crisis, something we have never seen before in our lives”

COVID-19 has highlighted this need for a transformative change in the healthcare model in an accelerated way. A healthcare system that, despite appearing stable, has shown shortcomings.

Deficiencies that have been pointed out for some time by the professionals themselves in reports that have been revealed like, peaks in the number of attendances and collapses in the emergency services at certain times of the year, for example.
An accumulation of unresolved problems has been multiplied with the pandemic and has led our health resources and their professionals to be overwhelmed.

Antonio Cabrera, secretary-general of the Union of Workers Commission and Health Federation (CC.OO. by its acronym in Spanish), affirms to the media that “the depredation of health resources by the pandemic, both material and human, can be seen with total clarity in the surgical waiting lists, which have shot up to unacceptable levels”.

To obtain official figures we must go back to June 2020 that, according to Cabrera the statistics that his organization manages are overwhelming: “We are aware that there are over one million surgical procedures in the waiting list”.

And not only operations may concern us; less serious and urgent interventions, routine check-ups, or explorations are being reduced to a minimum in pathologies such as cardiovascular diseases, still being the leading cause of death in Spain. In fact, according to the Spanish Society of Cardiology, for every COVID patient who dies, there are between five and six deaths due to heart problems.

In addition to the serious risk to cardiovascular patients, another major group collaterally affected by the pandemic is cancer patients. Although ongoing treatments have been maintained and patients have been able to continue to be treated, the real danger of overcrowding is for those at the diagnostic-stage. Early detection saves lives, and not being able to do so poses a serious risk for public health.

This uncontrolled situation requires an urgent solution, not only to overcome the virus but also to really have a health system capable of meeting the needs of society.

A challenge in which technology and digitalization can play a key role in providing the necessary tools to support professionals in the healthcare transformation.

Addressing the challenge of health systems in the pandemic and collateral damage for health institutions

• Slowing down and minimizing waiting lists
This situation requires immediate action, we cannot wait any longer, or we could have fatal consequences for many of those people on the waiting list. However, these measures cannot fall entirely on the shoulders of health workers who are doing their best and superhuman efforts from which we cannot demand more. We must use tools at our disposal, the technology of digitalization to optimize resources as valuable as operating theatres.

• Increasing and improving patient flow
Implementing tools and strategies to regulate the flow of patients has great advantages for the healthcare system, especially in a saturated system that needs higher security. Through technology and the digitalization of certain elements, patients can spend less time inside the hospital, allowing for the admission of new cases, and having a lower risk of contagion within the facilities.

• Optimizing the management capacity of equipment, beds, and operating theatres
Crises such as the current one lead to an overload of healthcare resources. Being able to optimize their use to the maximum to benefit as many patients as possible is feasible with the right strategy. A strategy where technology is our greatest ally.

• Keeping patients informed, comfortable, and safe
Now, hospital admission for many patients means uncertainty, fear of what the next step will be, and anxiety on family members without mentioning the contagious risk fear for them and health staff. Although the medical staff is overwhelmed, digital tools could be the key when it comes to covering a need as important as knowing the condition of a family member thru tailored apps that coexist between the digital ecosystem of health institutions and patients’ relatives.

• Optimizing ERs performance with patient flow solutions
With primary care, consultations kept to a minimum or carried out by telephone certain illnesses becoming an emergency and end up making this department one of the most in-demand.

For this reason, and given the importance of the situation, it is vital that the emergency protocol is as precise and reliable as possible creating a continuous, stable, and efficient flow of patients to avoid collapse. Being aware of the need for healthcare centers where efficiency is paramount, full visualization of the department thru digitalization must be another working tool on which all staff can rely for real-time decision making.

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