By Jeff Fallon, chairman and CEO, eVideon
“Innovate or die” has taken on a whole new meaning in the last month thanks to COVID-19. From building ventilators with car parts to hospitals repurposing video conferencing apps for patient engagement, a pandemic changed the world and innovations changed the delivery of healthcare. In a post-pandemic world, failing to have a virtual engagement strategy isn’t just unwise, it’s potentially fatal; for patients, staff and a sustainable business model.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and while telehealth was “invented” a long time ago, it’s here now, and it’s here permanently out of necessity. There’s been much written about this recently, but we also have to acknowledge all the other ways healthcare will need to be ready for what’s next. Because one thing is for sure – healthcare will never be the same.
As of May 12, there are currently 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 in the US, and 82,799 deaths due to the virus. By the time I’m done writing this, those stats will be higher. By the time this article is published, those stats will be higher still.
While our minds immediately go to those in healthcare who are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines – the doctors, nurses, technicians, and countless support staff in hospitals and clinics – it’s important to remember that all of healthcare is suffering in some way. While half of healthcare is working long hours in dangerous conditions without proper PPE, the other half of healthcare is out of work.
There are few elective procedures right now, which displaces all the staff associated with those types of hospitalizations – surgeons, surgical nurses, etc. Healthcare as an industry is learning to cope out of necessity. But hopefully we’re also learning some valuable lessons about what’s possible for the future. And some of those lessons will set the new standards of care.
While it took years and massive federal investment for healthcare to adopt technologies like EHRs, in mere weeks we’ve seen an exponential increase in use of virtual/digital engagement tools.
Patients are embracing the convenience and safety of “distance medicine” enabled by these solutions. Whether patients were simply unaware of the option or maybe distrusted telehealth, their fears and hesitations about it are gone.
Patients are logging on, getting needed prescriptions, and learning just how easy it is to engage in the new reality of healthcare delivery in the post-pandemic world. They (along with healthcare providers) are learning that virtual engagement works and that it truly can promote a sense of togetherness despite large and safe distances between us. That’s healthcare now. But what’s healthcare in six weeks? A year? Five years?
Even as health emergency declarations are being lifted and Americans slowly emerge from their homes, viruses don’t care. And lifting orders gives little comfort to those who are older, immunocompromised, or those who are just scared. Many may choose to self-isolate well into the future.
Even after the pandemic, there will be new COVID-19 cases and other viruses to avoid. The memory of the 2020 pandemic will not soon fade. And though the curve may have flattened, the virus and its repercussions are not leaving us any time soon.
We need to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 and prepare hospital staff appropriately with the tools they need to care, engage, and stay safe. And we need to carefully navigate the “overlap” of COVID-19 care into care for those who have delayed it for longer than they would have liked.
This means we’ll see an influx of patients who have been non-compliant with medications (either out of lack of knowledge, lack of pharmacy access, or fear of walking into a pharmacy). And patients whose conditions have worsened because they were unable to get the “elective” procedures they needed. What we will certainly see is patients entering hospitals with a whole new level of fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability.
These patients will need reassurance. They’ll need smarter hospital rooms so they have the communication tools to stay in touch with loved ones. They’ll need to feel safe from potential contagion in their hospital rooms. They’ll need to be empowered with knowledge to feel confident in managing their own care after they leave.
And we can’t forget hospital staff. Those returning to elective procedures will need the tools necessary to do their jobs safely. They will also need reassurance and confidence. They’ll need an environment free from unnecessary contamination risks. Lucky for all of us, the past two months have shown us that we do indeed have the power, knowledge, and ability to enable all of the above.
While hospital leaders are understandably exhausted, now is the time to consider ways to mitigate that exhaustion and make lives easier for ourselves moving forward. Technology can replace so many “things” in a patient room that can pose contamination risks. Doing so will make a lasting impression on patient care and the fight against COVID-19.