COVID-19: 'A continuously evolving process that requires adapting by the hour'

As the number of lives touched by COVID-19 is continuously mounting, so are the efforts of IT departments to counter the rising pressure on hospitals. The recent HIMSS Webinar, ‘Italy and Germany facing COVID-19’, hosted by Charles Alessi, Chief Clinical Officer, HIMSS, had two CIOs from private hospital chains in Italy and Germany, respectively, share their lessons learned from the coronavirus outbreak.


Italy, in particular, has had to deal with a surge of infected patients and a shortage of ICU beds ahead of other Western countries. For almost five weeks Elena Sini, Group CIO, GVM Care & Research, Italy, has been working tirelessly to stay ahead of the virus. She recommends the strict segregation of COVID-19 positive and negative patients to minimise the risk of infection. For the same reason Sini urges systems to ramp up remote working capacities to protect staff, be it in the form of telemedicine and video-conferencing capabilities for doctors and nurses or to enable IT staff work from home. Additionally, IT staff on wards receive training from those familiar with working in an ICU environment on how to behave safely and nurses in ICU units are trained to take care of some IT-related issues by themselves to protect their colleagues from IT.

Sini and Henning Schneider, CIO, Asklepios Kliniken, Germany, both members of the HIMSS board, advocate ceasing all ongoing IT projects to support doctors and nurses on the wards. This has become particularly important as the ongoing hospital reorganisation in reaction to COVID-19 requires additional user rights to be set up in a fast manner, especially as hospitals increase intensive care bed capacity by cancelling elective surgeries, converting recovery rooms and building tents to house patients. Sini reports a lack of hardware due to broken supply chains and insufficient bandwidth capacities as the demand on fixed landlines bounced up to about 90% on fixed landlines and 40% on the mobile network in Italy.

Measures that have been key are highlighted below:

  • Ability to control and monitor information via dashboard/automated matrix to assess situation in real-time.
  • Creation of an incidence plan.
  • Deploy collaboration tools.
  • Use of e-learning tutorials to bring newly recruited healthcare workers up to speed.
  • Secure operation of hospital information systems, especially when extending access rights.
  • Ramp up telemedicine capabilities.
  • High bandwidth capacities to support telemedicine and remote working.

Sini would like EHR-vendors to proactively add new capabilities to facilitate the monitoring and documentation of COVID-19 cases, while Schneider suggested that better infrastructure to enable communication between hospitals in Germany as well as a centrally organised COVID-19 reporting system on a state level would help improve coping with the pandemic.


As the COVID-19 pandemic consumes more medical resources daily, there is a heightened interest of hospital CIOs from around the world to learn from those who have been dealing with the coronavirus outbreak firsthand. For this webinar alone, more than 2,500 people signed up from 68 countries to get directions for contingency planning.


“The response to COVID-19 is a continuously evolving process, there is no end point and it requires adapting by the hour,” says Sini. “Collaboration tools are essential. Get ready for a significant surge in patients coming to hospitals, plan for the long haul. Although the heaviest toll is on healthcare professionals, burnout is also a concern for IT staff, so set up some psychological support for IT staff as well,” she warns.

Schneider reinforces that “each IT person is a human being who is afraid like everyone else of being infected. CIOs priority must be leadership and communication: communication with their own staff and aligning it with communication throughout the entire organisation.” He also praises the spirit of collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem: “The ability to work together is amazing, not only between hospitals, but also software and hardware vendors.”

Alessi warns of looming cyber-attacks: ”People need to be aware of a heightened need of security at a time like this.” As a doctor, he also sees the need to balance medical resources: “The coronavirus totally consumes the medical system, to the degree that people with a host of non-communicable diseases don’t get treatment.”

The full recording is available here. 


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