It's Time for Tech Creators to Take on the Hospital Crisis | Opinion

Stories from across the country show the dire situation the nation's hospital emergency departments are facing.

"Emergency rooms are at their breaking point with patients waiting for days," read a Fortune headline. "ERs are overwhelmed as omicron continues to flood them with patients," NPR explained. Some patients are being boarded in emergency department hallways, and some ERs have turned people away. Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are pushing "hospital systems past the brink," Bloomberg reported.

A new study found that long wait times in ERs lead to deaths. "When the wait times rose to between six and eight hours, the death rate was 8% higher than expected, while waiting eight to 12 hours the death rate was 10% higher than expected," HealthDay reported.

Major problems with the health care system, staffing shortages and the large number of unvaccinated people are causing much of this crisis. All of these factors require big solutions. But there's also another cause: technology.

For years, hospitals have wrestled with the need to bring their operations into a new technological era. A 2013 study found they lose a combined $8.3 billion annually to outdated tech through lost productivity and increased patient discharge times. Even new solutions that have been introduced are often fragmented, creating silos that don't communicate with each other. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Unsurprisingly, a study found that the average length of stay in an emergency department has gone up.

My work with hospitals has shown me some of the ways these issues prevent efficiency in emergency departments. In emergency rooms when a doctor orders tests, it often takes a while for nurses and technicians to learn about the order. Only once they discover it do they draw the labs. And while the results may be ready in 30 minutes or so, the doctor who prescribed the lab doesn't immediately learn that the results are ready. Hours can go by.

My team has been working with major hospitals in some of America's largest cities to help tackle this problem. Part of our solution creates instantaneous communication to inform staff at every point in a patient's journey. The moment an X-ray or lab is needed, the person responsible will be informed no matter where they are. The moment the results are ready, the doctor will receive a notification. If the physician does not respond within a few minutes, a triage system kicks in for taking action. This way, patients are cared for, and discharged or admitted, in a timely manner.

Doctor with PPE
A doctor puts on PPE before entering a room with a COVID-19 patient. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

In addition, algorithms can predict how much staff should be on hand at any given time. A 2019 report in the Harvard Business Review noted that variability is a major cause of emergency rooms bottlenecks, since hospital officials don't know how much staff to book at any given time. Artificial intelligence can change that. By automatically combining live information on the area including population data, social determinants of health, disease prevalence and more, software can help hospitals plan for surges. As an official at one hospital put it, such technology is "surprisingly accurate."

This just scratches the surface. An entire world of technology can speed up emergency departments in other ways. New imaging methods and diagnostic tests can be performed at a patient's bedside, and new tools can provide immediate results, the Eurasian Journal of Emergency Medicine reported. Patients' data can be uploaded automatically so that staff don't have to waste time inputting it manually into electronic health records. Robotic process automation can help free up staff as well. The possibilities are infinite.

Unfortunately, many hospitals need infrastructure updates to take advantage of some of these technologies. President Joe Biden and Democrats have been trying to provide funding to renovate hospitals, particularly 1,700 Veterans Affairs hospitals, through the Build Back Better Act.

At a time when so many doctors and nurses are burned out and leaving their professions, it's crucial to listen to them about what they need. They're clamoring for updated technology that is user friendly and trustworthy. While it might not sound as exciting as creating the next app that millions of people will want to download on their phones and get addicted to, technology to revolutionize hospitals is much more needed.

The good news is that the field of medical technology is growing rapidly. But there's still more work to do. Creators with new ideas to offer new solutions can make a tremendous difference. In a time of national crisis, it's our turn to step up.

Tashfeen Suleman is cofounder and CEO of CloudMedx.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.