COVID-19: We don’t need another hero

We’ve all got used to hailing healthcare staff as heroes over the past year. Of course they deserve every ounce of admiration, even though many are uncomfortable with the adulation. But the bigger question is whether this heroic status really represents a healthy situation?

Someone once advised me that, when conducting due diligence on a business, it’s important to find the hero. Why? Because that’s where the organisation could be out of control. If that’s the case, what does it say about the provision of healthcare?

The pharmaceutical sector has long understood the importance of systematic excellence and surely other parts of the healthcare ecosystem could learn from this.

The problem is that systematic excellence can no longer be based on siloed spreadsheets and paperwork that, by their nature, only look backwards.

We’ve read a lot about the digital transformation of healthcare over the past year. But the focus has been on technology that makes services more accessible to patients. Far less attention has been given to digital tools for the staff who are crucial to making those services possible.

This is where healthcare finds itself at odds with other industries that have empowered their people with digital capabilities that enable them to do more in terms of productivity, efficiency and quality of service. Can you imagine an Amazon employee with a clipboard filling out forms to ensure deliveries are on time? No, it would be ludicrous. Yet that’s the situation pharma and healthcare staff often find themselves in, day after day.

Large organisations across retail, logistics and manufacturing recognise that safety, consistency and efficiency are key to their success. They adopt digital systems to strengthen the ability of their workforces to deliver in these vital areas. They actively enable systematic excellence.

The healthcare sector’s rapid response to Covid-19 has been impressive but it doesn’t negate the longer-term imperative to build more resilient and flexible ecosystems. This will require more attention to the way healthcare teams go about their work; making best use of their skills so they can add value where it matters.

The need for a systematic approach is exacerbated by the continuing pressure on healthcare, given growing backlogs and supply chain issues, combined with the ongoing unpredictability of Covid-19 infection rates.

We need a forensic look at the many tasks healthcare teams have to tackle on a daily basis. Which repetitive tasks, such as fridge temperature monitoring, could be automated to remove the manual burden from staff? How much administrative paperwork could be moved online? How could staff get better on-the-spot guidance to support them as they work through their tasks?

Daily processes and procedures underpin almost every aspect of healthcare provision and we need better ways to manage them.

With digital assistants to take care of repetitive manual activities and guide best practice, we can reduce pressure on staff, free up more time for value-adding work, reinforce consistent standards and reduce errors that, while understandable in current circumstances, are avoidable with the right support in place.

For example, delivering step-by-step best practice guidance to mobile devices can strengthen confidence, compliance and consistency.

Sectors such as manufacturing, logistics and retail have been transformed by investment in automation, process control, quality improvement and data capture. These enable workers to produce good quality, reliable and repeatable services. Healthcare should be no different.

We need to eradicate paper-based, outdated, manual processes, endless feedback forms and countless audits checking up on staff. There’s an opportunity to move forward with real-time, informative systems designed to guide and support staff and provide the automated audit trail for compliance and regulators, so that quality is embedded as a routine.

Any modern business will recognise today that staff are the greatest asset. Providing joined-up systems across multiple sites, with mobile solutions for staff who have little access to desk-based technology, is an important quality and safety driver.

Mobile solutions put processes directly into the hands of the people who need them, prompting and guiding both scheduled and unscheduled work.

This approach not only supports staff, but managers too. Siloed spreadsheets and paperwork restrict their view of what’s happening – and their ability to analyse performance, implement change and work towards continuous improvement.

The data will then reveal why the heroes exist. They cover up the cracks in the system, using huge amounts of time and energy to smooth over the bumps, repeat lost processes, generate paperwork and backdate signatures to satisfy compliance audits.

On the face of it, they are heroes. But deep down we are covering up the true problem. It’s time to remove the capes and get serious about digital connected systems to make pharma and wider healthcare operations more effective and more efficient.

About the author

Mike Hobby is a healthcare transformation partner at Checkit. He is a veteran of the UK healthcare sector with over 23 years experience working with organisations, including 13+ years in international sales at Molecular Devices (formerly Genetix). He began his career working on the human genome before moving on to screening cell lines for novel antibodies in cancer helping to develop one of the market leading drugs for the disease.