For better or worse, COVID-19 has changed the very fabric of American society. Amid all the tragedy lie several silver linings, especially in the beleaguered healthcare sector. Many of these center around new technologies and treatment modalities. There is no going back to the pre-pandemic status quo, but perhaps that is a good thing in some ways. Keep reading to learn how the pandemic has altered the healthcare industry and what all this means for the future.
Public health agencies, insurance companies, and patients have been forced to adapt to a myriad of changes brought about by COVID-19. Some of these may prove temporary, but many others will have a lasting impact on the industry and society as a whole. Fundamental changes prompted by the pandemic include:
The Rise of Virtual Healthcare
During early lockdowns, many primary care services were suspended to reduce transmission and free up personnel and resources for disease response. As such, virtual solutions were forced to pick up the slack. Online and phone-based appointments took over, with biosensors and other cutting-edge solutions implemented to provide greater insight into numerous health concerns.
While in-person services have returned in full force, modern telehealth goes beyond the lackluster offerings of the pre-COVID era. This is hugely advantageous for patients residing in rural areas. It can also be helpful for those with jam-packed work schedules or mobility issues that prevent them from visiting clinics in person.
Telehealth was just one of many cutting-edge technologies implemented during the COVID era. Rapid innovations have allowed health systems and professionals to address a constant influx of new challenges. The swift development of the COVID vaccine and subsequent boosters was one of the most remarkable achievements, but impressive innovations have also paved the way for genetic sequencing, immunotherapy, and many other options that seemed like science fiction just a few short years ago.
Increased Awareness of Disease Prevention
COVID-19 made it abundantly clear that our previous efforts to prevent acute and chronic diseases were lacking. While this has been difficult to prioritize amid constant COVID spikes and general unpredictability, awareness of disease prevention is on the rise. Chronic concerns, in particular, are receiving more attention, as patients with these issues are far more likely to suffer severe COVID symptoms. Hence, the renewed focus on diabetes prevention and associated lifestyle change initiatives.
Mental Health Concerns
While the virus attracted most of the attention, the world arguably battled two epidemics these last few years: COVID and mental health. Amid lockdowns, political strife, and financial instability, many people found themselves struggling with depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other mental health concerns.
Prior to the pandemic, mental health screening was already essential, but it is now more accessible thanks to the aforementioned telehealth opportunities. While the unfortunate stigma surrounding mental health still exists, many patients are now more willing to bring up these concerns during primary care visits.
Mental health is also a new priority among healthcare professionals. Many suffered extreme burnout during the pandemic, which often manifested in dangerous coping mechanisms or diagnoses of depression. As we will discuss later, some dropped out of the industry altogether. Those who have continued in this sector now prioritize their mental health; they understand that emotional wellness is key to providing excellent patient care.
New Healthcare Policies
COVID has ushered in significant policy changes at both the state and federal levels. Telehealth was one of the most critical areas addressed, with all fifty states making either temporary or permanent changes to their telehealth regulations. Additional proposals seek to change key deficiencies made evident by the pandemic, such as race, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in healthcare delivery.
Federal changes have also been significant. For example, the United States No Surprises Act seeks to protect patients against surprise bills after inadvertently receiving care from out-of-network facilities. Providers must now make significant adjustments to billing procedures and payer relationships. Clinical professionals will also need to shift their approach, especially when making disclosures about balance billing and patient protection. These changes were inspired, in part, by increased concerns about surprise bills associated with COVID tests and treatments.
New Strategies for Elective Surgeries
Elective surgeries were temporarily put on hold during the early days of the pandemic. The demand for these skyrocketed after lockdowns were lifted, with providers struggling to keep up. Health systems have adapted, however. Many maintained packed surgical schedules even as patient volumes peaked amid the Delta and Omicron surges.
Preliminary research suggests that increased knowledge of and adherence to transmission-limiting practices may have enabled this surprising rebound. Meanwhile, many health systems have relied on predictive analytics and other advanced tech solutions to determine how personnel can best be deployed within the evolving environment of the post-lockdown operating room.
Increased Adaptability in Healthcare Systems
Adaptability has always been crucial in the healthcare sector, but it has become that much more important in light of COVID’s unpredictability. Suddenly, the sector faced transmission surges, evolving legislation, and a myriad of new treatment options. As the American Hospital Association (AHA) points out, previously stagnant health systems were forced to embrace qualities such as adaptability and flexibility.
The future will call for openness to cutting-edge solutions such as telehealth and predictive analytics and a more open-minded culture within healthcare organizations that were once clearly stuck in the past. Healthcare leaders have realized that tomorrow’s crises may not have a clear start or end but, instead, could require a management mindset and an expectation of constant disruptions.
Awareness of Supply Chain Concerns
Pandemic and labor-related supply chain struggles have been felt in all areas of the healthcare sector. This was first seen in the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), which placed hardworking medical professionals at risk. Since then, all kinds of essentials have proven difficult to come by, including everything from catheters to semiconductor chips.
Recently, organizations have been forced to navigate raw material shortages and issues with transportation and staffing that make it far more difficult to get critical items from point A to point B. Organizations have been forced to build these delays into their plans to beat the gridlock. This could mean adding several weeks to expected turnaround times or using anticipatory tools to boost demand forecasting.
As we have discussed, today’s healthcare systems need to be far more adaptable than before. This adaptability is fostered, in part, through an increased commitment to healthcare preparedness, including anticipating and planning for a wide array of calamities, ranging from natural disasters to future pandemics.
Step one involves conducting thorough risk assessments that consider national trends and location-specific concerns. Robust credentialing processes will also be crucial moving forward. Currently, many providers are working to establish more effective partnerships or coalitions to share the burden during future catastrophes.
Increased Need for Nurses and Other Healthcare Workers
While labor shortages have been rampant in all fields these past few years, it has been especially alarming in the healthcare sector. Deficiencies existed before COVID but were amplified as overburdened nurses began to drop out of the workforce.
The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey revealed that this problem will only accelerate in the next few years. In this study, one-fifth of respondents expressed their intention to retire from nursing within five years. Similar retirement rates are expected among other healthcare workers, including clinical and non-clinical employees. While concerning for the field itself, this also represents a massive opportunity for aspiring professionals, who could be able to command higher pay and faster promotions due to these shortages.
Embracing New Opportunities: The Importance of Targeted Education
If you are interested in entering the healthcare field or seeking to advance through the ranks, now is an excellent time to seek advanced skills and knowledge. Consider seeking a step up with help from an online MBA in Healthcare Administration or the
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