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The last two years have seen the healthcare industry rocked by the challenges of the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic. Hospitals have been flooded, staffing has been tight, and cracks in the medical care system have been all too visible. But times of great change can also open up new opportunities for innovation. Here are some of this year’s most far-reaching changes in the industry. 

Expanding Telemedicine 

After multiple waves of lockdowns, telemedicine—the practice of holding medical visits remotely, via videoconferencing—has moved from being an afterthought to a central service at most hospitals. Telehealth appointments allow doctors to pre-screen patients for possible infections, which cuts down on disease spread. It also makes it easier for patients to regularly see healthcare practitioners. With federal and state regulators removing regulatory barriers, many hospitals are developing new telemedicine programs and expanding their existing networks.

Virtual Reality Trainings

Novice surgeons need to be present for elective surgeries as part of their training. But the necessary halting of such surgeries due to the pandemic has unexpectedly thrown a wrench in that part of surgical residents’ education. 

Enter the virtual reality (VR) training program used by the orthopaedic surgery residency at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. The VR user “sees” lifelike animations of a surgery on the screen, and uses their hand movements to control what happens on screen. This evolving technology could help prepare future generations of surgeons for the intricate and complex set of procedures they’re now expected to perform—while accelerating the learning process through more hands-on digital teaching. It also allows surgical training to continue during the pandemic. By setting up the equipment in a specific room, “people can take their time and maintain social distancing,” one of the program’s inventors told Health Leaders Media. “They can jump on the virtual trainer and practice their skills, so we don’t lose their skillset.”

Engineering Cleaner Hospitals

Even before the pandemic, hospitals had a consistent problem with healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), many of which have spread due to careless floor planning and hospital design. 

Now hospital engineers and architects are increasingly considering ways to cut the transmission of infections. These include setting up steps to entering hospital buildings, with testing and better sorting of potentially infectious patients. Hospital buildings are increasingly prioritizing one-way flow of people through hallways to stop cross contamination, including designating specific elevators for infected materials and individuals. “Although slightly more expensive to construct, there is an ongoing advantage in ease and safety of elevator maintenance,” Health Facilities Management Magazine says. There’s also an increasing emphasis on more self-sufficient hospital suites to prevent people from constantly having to come in and out. These changes aren’t just helping halt the spread of COVID-19. They’re cutting down on other infections as well.

Air Surveillance For Pathogens

Of course, it’s important to know what’s in the air that flows through even the best designed hospital. New technologies like the Thermo Scientific AerosolSense Sampler can monitor for the presence of a wide variety of airborne viruses like Flu or SARS-CoV-2. The sensor collectes aerosol samples of ambient air and traps in-air pathogens on a collection substrate, which can be easily analyzed through laboratory testing. It helps clarify what’s in the air we’re breathing—and during a time when respiratory viruses are on everyone’s mind, such technology has a bright future ahead of it.