By Derek Jones, vice president of enterprise strategy, Deputy.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted one aspect of our healthcare system: the global healthcare industry was not prepared to face a crisis. The lack of preparedness has significantly disrupted the healthcare supply chain: sharp surge of demand, lack of protective equipment, shortage of medical supplies and employees protesting against unsafe work conditions have all contributed to a slowdown of the healthcare industry.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak has been rapidly progressing — more than 175 countries have reported cases of COVID-19, with more than 735,000 cases and 35,000 deaths, as of March 30.
Discussed below are the steps that healthcare facility managers should take to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Getting ready to face a crisis
It is also essential you find the time to meet up with your staff to educate them on all the aspects of the crisis. The common end-goals for everyone should be the same: reduce fatality rate, minimize disease transmission and ensure the healthcare system is operational.
Preparing your healthcare facility
- Plan ahead for your facility’s supply of personal protective equipment to be ready to deal with any shortages.
- Get in touch with all your suppliers and work out a flexible mechanism to re-supply in case of shortages.
- Educate your workforce about infection prevention and control guidance.
- Use visual cues and alerts at entrances and strategic locations within your facility to provide instructions on hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette.
- Prepare a properly sanitized containment area to welcome any infected patient or personel.
Handling patients queries
- Brainstorm different alternatives to the traditional face to face visits to limit the transmission of diseases in your facility.
- Encourage patients to use alternate advice lines, such as online portals and self-assessment tools.
- Assign the appropriate staff to handle queries you’ll be receiving via your alternate advice lines.
- Set up protocols to determine which patients can be managed remotely and which ones will need to come to your facility.
- Keep a schedule of the number of patients in your facility and advise your patients when to come in at a less crowded time.
Dealing with patients
- Plan ahead for a surge of critically sick patients and identify appropriate space to care for them.
- Identify dedicated staff to deal with infected patients.
- Separate known or confirmed infected patients from others.
- Limit patient visits during the outbreak.
- Reschedule outpatients visit to your facility according to the urgency level.
- Eliminate non-infected patient related penalties for cancellations or missed appointments.
- Patients showing infectious symptoms should be encouraged to call your organization before coming in, allowing your staff to prepare themselves accordingly.
- Emphasize on high priority screening and assistance to patients suspected or confirmed infected patients.
Managing your workforce during a pandemic
- Ensure your staff are aware of sick leave policies and encourage them to stay at home if they are not feeling well.
- Educate your staff about recommended work restrictions and monitoring.
- Encourage all your employees to check for any sign of illness before they come to work everyday, and report accordingly to the supervisor.
- Consider regularly screening your workforce for different symptoms of the pandemic and provide treatment and assistance where required.
- Plan for increased absenteeism by providing flexible schedules, extended hours, cross-training your current staff or even hiring temporary employees. This can be simplified using an employee scheduling software.
The long-term game
After seeing how unprepared the healthcare industry is when faced with a massive outbreak, healthcare organizations should ultimately plan ahead for the long term game. One promising forward is through the use of telehealth. Using remote advice lines, such as online portals, video conferencing or even text message monitoring can help reduce exposure to sick persons, and drastically reduce the pressure on healthcare facilities. Shifting the current healthcare business model to a digitally enhanced one would clearly make the healthcare sector a more sustainable one.
A good example of applied telehealth is One Medical Founding, a healthcare provider that has built its whole business model on telemedicine. They provide in-house care in 83 offices, while encouraging stakeholders to make use of their mobile apps and website. Shifting to telehealth can also be financially rewarding — in 2019, One Medical Founding saw its revenue go up by 30%.
Off you go
The current COVID-19 pandemic has pushed unprecedented stress upon the healthcare industry. The outcome of this crisis is unpredictable but to date, no one even knows when we’ll be done with it. However, digging through the mess, opportunities will arise and hopefully, the global healthcare industry will come out even stronger out of this.