As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, we’re witnessing advanced health systems being stretched beyond their limits.

With more patients needing medical attention, hospitals need to find new ways to provide care. Thankfully, innovative strategies are emerging to help those working on the frontlines of this pandemic.

Here are some of them:

Increased reliance on telemedicine

Telemedicine has stepped up into the spotlight and helped healthcare organizations better respond to the needs of patients who have contracted the virus.

Telehealth is bridging the gap between people and doctors, enabling everyone, especially symptomatic patients to stay at home and communicate with their doctors through virtual channels. This technology is being used as a way to screen and diagnose patients without the risk of spreading the disease through physical contact.

In the UK, up to 20 percent of patients with COVID-19 caught it at a hospital. According to the National Health Service (NHS), up to a fifth of COVID-19 patients contracted the disease while being treated for another illness. Some of the infections were passed on by healthcare workers, who were unaware that they were sick.

According to a survey conducted by Sykes, nearly 75 percent of Americans said they would consider telemedicine to be remotely screened for the disease. Likewise, nearly two-thirds of respondents said the pandemic has raised their willingness to undergo online consultations.

Telemedicine is being used in the “forward triage” of patients long before they’re asked to go to clinics. Many chronic patients can have teleconsultations at home to avoid face-to-face clinic visits, hence minimize their risk of exposure to the disease.

Separate emergency entrances for contagious patients

One of the biggest risks of an infection occurs when people walk in the emergency room but don’t realize they’re infected with the coronavirus.

What many healthcare facilities have done is to follow a selective clinic entrance model. In this model, a separate, well-ventilated area is set up where patients at high risk for the disease can wait. This area has benches, chairs, or stalls separated by at least one-meter distance. Patient flows are separated by specific entrances: one entrance is dedicated to those showing symptoms, while another is for patients arriving at the hospital for other medical reasons.

Also, many hospitals have constructed separate treatment facilities outside the emergency department, so suspected infectious patients can be tested and treated even before setting foot inside the hospital. Many hospitals have set up makeshift triage and testing centers in their parking lots.

Increased use of AI to flatten the curve

Aside from physical distancing, making quick diagnoses is vital in countering the spread of the disease. While humans can collect data, they may be limited in how fast they can interpret it. In China, a smart image-reading system, called Ping An Smart Healthcare, relies on artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze CT scans of patients and measure the changes in lesions. It’s been used to conduct thousands of screenings, giving faster and more accurate results than humans. As a result, hundreds of potential cases were detected quickly, helping mitigate the spread of the virus.

On the other hand, Chinese tech giant Alibaba has come up with an AI program for detecting coronavirus from chest CT scans. The company says the new system has a 96 percent success rate and can provide diagnosis in 20 seconds. Humans typically take about 15 minutes to diagnose the illness with up to 300 images to evaluate. The system is powered by deep learning algorithms and is able to differentiate between viral pneumonia and COVID-19.

Digital databases to track hospital equipment shortages

Multiple states have developed digital systems and online medical dashboards to track not only the spread of the disease but also information on hospital equipment.

New York has rolled out several initiatives, including merging all 200 of its hospitals into a single digital system to manage hospital staff, patients and equipment. By merging into a unified system, the state can better track hospitals’ staff, patients and supplies, helping manage the distribution of resources effectively.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association created an online data dashboard that shows the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state. It also provides data on bed availability, ventilator usage, and real-time metrics on the number of hospitals short on PPE and other important supplies.

Furthermore, Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services updated its online hub for information about the pandemic, which includes a centralized database containing the state’s COVID-19 information. The COVID-19 dashboard is updated daily, displaying data on the numbers of tests done, positive and negative results and deaths. The data is further broken down by patients’ age and gender, and users can further trim down data based on location.

Uncertainty breeds innovation. From constructing makeshift testing centers to going digital in their data storage, many hospitals have adapted quickly to match the unprecedented scale of the pandemic.