Adriana Allocato
Adriana Allocato (Research Manager, Health Insights, IDC Europe)

In the past three months, we’ve talked with hospital CIOs in some of the hardest-hit regions in Italy. We’ve discussed how they have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, their main challenges, and what they have learned from it.

One of the main takeaways has been their passion for their work and their great sense of responsibility toward the community. At the same time, an agile but redundant infrastructure, along with the adoption of simple solutions at scale, have proven to be essential weapons in the battle against COVID-19.

New Challenges for Hospitals

Hospitals have been challenged to the limit by the pandemic, and have been forced to change everything. In a matter of days, they had to reorganise their work environment, processes, care capacity, supplies and workforce.

They had to figure out, quickly, how to get from the unsustainable workloads and chaos brought about by the pandemic to a sustainable, viable way of operating in the medium to long term. They had to develop a strategy to deliver high-quality care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients — a strategy supported by established systems and processes, without having to constantly improvise.

The main challenges have been:

  • Equipping rapidly reorganised hospitals, and in particular supporting new intensive care unit (ICU) deployments. Hospitals have been facing a shortage of all kinds of supplies stemming from weaknesses in their sourcing strategies. Hospital IT departments have had to provision employees for remote working and set up new COVID-19 departments, including new ICUs. This included enabling connectivity, medical documentation, device monitoring and resource management in extremely challenging conditions.
  • Managing emergency as well as routine work while keeping IT staff safe. The pressures brought about by COVID-19 have put hospitals and their IT departments under unprecedented levels of strain, and CIOs have had reorganise their departmental resources to ensure organisational and operational redundancy.
  • Real-time access and usability of patient data for hospital management and population health purposes. To understand and better plan for health service demand, decision makers need a robust operating picture of the virus: how it’s spreading, where it might spread next and how that will affect healthcare services. They also need to know where the system is likely to face strain first, be that ventilators, beds or staff sickness.
  • Executing strategy and rapidly implementing new organisational setups and processes. Hospitals are experiencing a very heavy workload in what is now the “new normal” work setting. They risk losing control over the execution of the established strategies, so communications from the crisis unit needs to reach every part of the organisation in an unambiguous and effective way.

The Role of Hospital CIOs and Their Recommendations

Like many other frontline workers, hospital CIOs have had to cope with emotionally difficult challenges and unprecedented uncertainty. With their teams, however, they’ve been able to work alongside doctors and nurses to understand what is most urgently needed on site. They have also supported hospital management by generating data for informed decision making.

CIOs have shared with us their recommendations on how best to support clinicians and nurses and ensure operational resilience. These include:

  • Enhancing supply chain flexibility and planning for an emergency IT and medical device sourcing strategy
  • Reorganising IT department resources for organisational and operational redundancy
  • Leveraging business intelligence systems extensively for real-time insights
  • Setting a clear strategy to enable an effective “chain of command” to support internal and external communication

The Next Normal for Healthcare

The pandemic is fast-moving, but so are the efforts to address it. Some of these lessons learned will be critical for healthcare organisations when it comes to surviving and thriving in the “next normal”.

These lessons, among other topics, will be discussed at the IDC European Healthcare Executive Digital Forum in October. In an interactive environment, European healthcare leaders will discuss how the digital acceleration experienced in the past few months can be a launchpad for strategic transformation. For further information on how to join the Summit contact Helena Chappell.

To learn more about reinventing hospital care, see our report IDC PeerScape: Hospital CIOs Peer Insights to Help Mitigate the COVID-19 Outbreak, or contact Adriana Allocato, Silvia Piai, or Nino Giguashvili.