COVID Impact: The Future of Healthcare.
COVID-19 has warped every aspect of America’s healthcare, transforming a system that was often taken for granted coming into the war against the pandemic. And, like any war, there have been casualties—more than 9,000 nurses, doctors, and other health care workers have contracted COVID-19, hospitals are furloughing staff, and nearly 43,000 healthcare workers have lost their jobs entirely as a result of the pandemic. Healthcare, as an industry, has suffered as a result of COVID-19, with the job losses and disproportionate rate of COVID-19-infected employees to prove it. Enough has been said on the subject of how to help the healthcare industry today, but not enough thought and planning has gone into what it is going to need when this is all over. There is going to be a life after COVID-19. Organizations and individuals at every level of the healthcare sector—whether it’s hospitals in COVID-19-ravaged cities or healthcare companies trying to manage their member base’s fears and conditions—need to be adequately prepared. Healthcare leaders need to be ready to communicate with their hardworking staff, their members and patients, and the general public. Be Reassuring One of the many worrying trends about COVID-19 is the sudden decline in hospital visits. In New York alone, emergency rooms have seen a nearly 50% decline in non-COVID-19-related visits. However, as many have pointed out, that doesn’t mean that strokes, heart attacks, and other life-threatening emergencies have suddenly come to a halt, Americans are just avoiding hospitals rather than risking contracting COVID-19. Eventually, Americans will have to regain faith in their safety and resume their healthcare journeys to the extent they are able. In an effort to combat this behavior, hospitals and doctors need to proactively message what they are doing to help keep their patients safe, be open and transparent about whether they or their staff were exposed to COVID-19, and explain their sanitation and safety measures—measures that most doctor’s offices and hospitals were undertaking before this outbreak even began. As the world reopens, the general public will be inundated by inconsistent messages that could influence whether they think it’s safe to receive in-person care. Hospitals and doctors, as the experts in the room, should not allow outside voices to define whether it is safe. They have to step up and communicate clearly if they’re interested in having in-person visits. Healthcare providers may not be offering direct care but they can work to help assuage their member’s concerns. For local or regional healthcare networks, sharing the health and safety messaging of large hospitals in your area can go a long way to getting the word out. Promoting your telehealth offerings so that your members are still receiving the care they need can also go a long way toward keeping them healthy if they continue avoiding hospitals and doctor’s offices. Be Gracious Healthcare workers are going to emerge from this with their fair share of scars. Frontline nurses and doctors are already beginning to report spikes in PTSD, anxiety, and depression as they treat waves of COVID-19 cases. Healthcare companies are inundated with calls from their member bases. Administrators struggle to balance the essential, potentially life-saving care with the hard financial realities of keeping a hospital up and running in America. All of that is to say, 2020 will have been a hard year for healthcare professionals, regardless of how directly they came into contact with COVID-19. So healthcare leaders need to be conscientious of that fact when communicating with their employees. Aside from the obvious advice—such as “thank them directly”—the industry should get creative. Employees may require mental health support if they are experiencing depression and other mental health symptoms—do what you can to financially and logistically support that need. After they’ve put in months of overtime, try to find ways to accommodate more time off or shorter work weeks. Beyond that, just use common sense: avoid language that unnecessarily reminds them of the pandemic and provide them with whatever equipment you can so they feel safe. Be Proactive At this point, there are three major things that remain unknown. First, it is unclear whether or not contracting COVID-19 once completely prevents you from contracting it again. Secondly, the disease remains unpredictable: it could mutate, it could see a resurgence in the fall, or a new strain could develop. Finally, and most importantly, we do not know when a vaccine will be finished and how widely it would be available (though a number of smart, resourceful labs and companies across the country are working on it). We cannot predict the future. We do not know what the next two weeks, two months, or two years will hold. So, for the healthcare industry, the people who are trusted to care for the health of their patients, their members, and the public at large, preparation is key. Take this opportunity now, while much of the country remains in relative isolation, to prepare for the future. Start talking through the scenarios internally. Figure out how you would respond and what you would say, and who you would say it to. Treat this scenario like any major corporation treats a crisis and spend every spare moment of time planning for what could come next. It could be for nothing, but you will be happy you put the time and effort in if the worst happens.