Education and Healthcare Advance Use of Tech During COVID-19

Recent reports and interviews reveal that educators and healthcare providers embrace digital transformation, but big challenges remain. These are some of the computing technologies moving these sectors into the future.

By Gene Knauer

By Gene Knauer February 25, 2021

Education and healthcare have been ripe for reinvention for years. Innovation is apparent in many aspects, but the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that digital transformation is still a work in progress, according to interviews with tech experts from both sectors.

How people learn, teach, work, receive healthcare, and manage employees fundamentally changed almost overnight. A closer look at recent tech innovation efforts in education and healthcare since the pandemic revealed some sticking points and advancements. 

For both sectors, IT teams and decision-makers grapple with flat or shrinking budgets but must find ways to meet the needs of customers who span the technology adoption curve, including many without reliable access to internet technologies.

No More Snow Days in Rhode Island

Like the 1.5 billion learners worldwide, Dr. Kelvin Roldan, Deputy Commissioner of System Transformation of the State of Rhode Island, was unprepared for the world to shut down in March 2020. He started his position in January 2020 and began creating a data platform for strategic planning.

“Then COVID hit and we shifted focus,” said Roldan. “We looked for research-based guidance on virtual instruction for students at different grade levels; things like how much screen time was healthy and best practices for delivering lessons.”


The Remote Desktop Technician Behind Distance Learning

In many ways, Roldan and his colleagues were learning on the fly. The guidance they issued to educators throughout the state had to be flexible and platform-agnostic to address the 66 separate, independently governed school districts that had already chosen different distance learning and communications platforms. One district might use Zoom, another Google Classrooms, and a third Microsoft Teams. This complicates things for IT teams.

The districts also differed dramatically in their budgets. Some had the resources to equip and support every learner with a Google laptop and hotspots for families lacking Internet access. Others didn’t. 

Regardless, state officials declared that snow days don’t mean a day off for students anymore since instruction occurred online. This made it even more challenging for IT teams to deliver remote desktop streaming technologies reliably and students who struggled to get their hands on those now essential learning technologies. Not to mention teachers who needed to quickly become familiar with these technologies and get comfortable presenting live online versus in real classrooms.

Mixed Results with Distance Learning

Distance learning is filling the gap during lockdowns and social distancing, but now always with rave reviews. A recent editorial in The New York Times called it “a disaster, especially for disadvantaged students.” 

Roldan said he agrees that technology isn’t a panacea for changing education.

“Remote learning may be less effective for students who benefit from in-person instruction,” he said. “Older students who are working part-time or others who prefer self-paced study may benefit from virtual academies or part in-person, part virtual study.”


Desktop-as-a-Service Strengthens Teaching and Teamwork

Still, anecdotal evidence points to distance learning successes. Estonia, where all curriculum materials were already online before COVID-19, is among the world’s highest performers in education. In South Korea, access to the Internet by nearly 99.5% of the population has been associated with increased literacy across the country. Uruguay provides every family with access to digital technology for learning and is among the top distance learning countries. Students in Uruguayan schools learn English over the Internet from teachers in Argentina, the U.K., and the Philippines.

Before COVID-19, lack of funding and resistance to change in many places worldwide stalled digital transformation for the education sector. According to a report by CB Insights, that was especially true across the U.S., which stated that education technology accounts for less than 5% of the $1.6 trillion spent on education in the U.S. each year.

Due to the pandemic, grammar schools, secondary schools and universities are exploring how to better implement technology into the learning experience, including:

  • Laptops, iPads, VPNs, video and unified communications support remote learning
  • Learning management systems help teachers deliver their curricula and grade assignments
  • Separate online platforms can be used for learning and tutoring 
  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) foster enhanced learning
  • Biometric technologies enhance school security and lesson engagement
  • Artificial intelligence personalizes learning to individual students
  • Secure application streaming technologies, including virtual desktop infrastructure and desktop as a service

Ultimate Teaching Tool Helps Creighton University Switch to Distance Learning During COVID-19 Crisis

While in-class and virtual learning will coexist going forward, the education sector’s most significant barriers to increased adoption of technology, according to CB Insights, include privacy concerns, lack of specific talent to operate infrastructure, and ─ as the world economies recover from the pandemic ─ budget.

Telemedicine Is a Hit

Like distance learning, telemedicine and other forms of virtual healthcare have been the medical field’s answer to social distancing during the pandemic. Millions now communicate with care providers using apps and online communications tools.

According to a report by the World Health Organization: “There is a growing consensus in the global health community that the strategic and innovative use of digital and cutting-edge information and communications technologies will be an essential enabling factor towards ensuring that one billion more people benefit from universal health coverage.”

The report cites the potential benefits of a health ecosystem with many technologies and data inputs as improved diagnoses, better treatment decisions, more self-managed care, and greater evidence-based knowledge.

“We will come out a lot more dependent on telehealth and texting…in the new normal of healthcare and the post-COVID era,” said Judi Nightingale, R.N., director of population health at  Riverside University Health System in Riverside, Calif. 

She stressed the ability of technology and data to prioritize disease prevention. 

“I think we might get to the point where hospital CEOs would be more focused on keeping people out of the hospital than getting them in.” 


How Alabama A&M Leveraged Private Cloud for Remote Work During COVID-19

U.S. accounting and advisory firm BDO’s 2020 Healthcare Digital Transformation Survey polled 100 C-suite executives at healthcare organizations in the U.S. with annual revenues between $250 million and $3 billion. Over half (54%) implement a digital transformation strategy with the top three priorities of improving the customer experience, increasing operational efficiencies, and modernizing their technologies.

In a recent Scientific American article on healthcare post-COVID, healthcare investor and consultant Raphael Rakowski wrote that he believes AI, point-of-care diagnostics, and wearable biometric monitoring will propel more decentralized care in the future.

"AI will democratize optimum medical care by using large amounts of patient data and best-practice evidence to guide diagnosis and treatment,” wrote Rakowski. 

“Point of care diagnostics technologies (think of the Tricorder in Star Trek) will allow medical providers to have instant confirmation of patient diagnoses in decentralized settings. This will reduce costs and accelerate access to appropriate treatment. Wearable biometric monitoring devices will allow patients and medical providers to remotely monitor their medical status, allowing for safe medical care at home or in other decentralized care sites."

A recent report from McKinsey agrees that integrating AI-based diagnostics, cloud-based storage of medical records, and integrating information across the care continuum will contribute to more cost efficiencies. But it stresses that “consumer adoption…will be driven by more informed consumers demanding a seamless technology experience irrespective of the care setting.”

The Data Conundrum

COVID-19 has pushed healthcare technology to mainstream care delivery. Nearly 40% of respondents in a recent report indicated that they already have a digital infrastructure for analytics, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring.

“It took a global event to create social change in only five weeks that probably would have [otherwise] taken five years,” said David B. Nash, M.D., one of the authors of the report, “A Look at the New Normal of Healthcare: Perspectives from the Industry Leaders.” It cited studies that predict a seven-fold increase in telehealth in the U.S. by 2025.

But another healthcare visionary, Judith Faulkner, CEO of healthcare software firm Epic Systems, cautions that disparate data remains a challenge. 

“Data definitions are a big problem,” Faulkner said. ”Health systems are defining data differently, which makes it impossible to aggregate.” Faulkner sees the potential for more data standardization efforts and a focus on public health surveillance as a lasting legacy of the pandemic. 

Medicine will change over the next few years as algorithms process data from multiple sources around the world, according to Dana Zanone, M.D., vice present of Adventist Health in Nebraska. 

“Aggregating that data will significantly change how we care for people based on their personal risk factors.”

Gene Knauer is a contributing writer who specializes in IT and business topics. He is also the author of Herding Goldfish: The Professional Content Marketing Writer in an Age of Digital Media and Short Attention Spans.

© 2021 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved. For additional legal information, please go here.

Related Articles