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September 26, 2020John Danaher

The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on major imbalances within the healthcare system, specifically, the supply and demand of allied health professionals, and the urgent need to invest in community-based care that prioritizes vulnerable populations.

The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on major imbalances within the healthcare system, specifically, the supply and demand of allied health professionals, and the urgent need to invest in community-based care that prioritizes vulnerable populations.

As we think ahead to a post-COVID-19 world, now is a crucial time for healthcare workers and decision makers to start considering what the future of supply and demand in healthcare will look like. Specifically, what are the new skills that the healthcare workforce needs to succeed and what resources will be required to serve all populations.

Providing Care in a Virtual World

As a result of COVID-19, interactions between patients and their clinicians has significantly changed. Social distancing protocols combined with patients feeling hesitant to enter medical buildings for non-urgent matters, has led to an accelerated demand for telehealth solutions that is expected to continue well after the pandemic resolves itself. Now is the time for healthcare professionals to become more familiar with virtual, on-demand care through training and education.

Physicians and nurses will need to fully embrace virtual training and education to develop new skills that will allow them to connect with patients remotely in a meaningful way. Sophisticated, virtual learning modules and simulations provide healthcare workers with the skills to deliver the same level of patient care virtually as they would in-person. Virtual training also benefits medical students who are making the transition from an educational environment to a clinical setting. Cutting-edge eLearning programs, that include real life scenarios and interactive tutorials, can accelerate competence, and sharpen decision-making skills required to provide the best possible patient care.

Social equity has been a major focus for healthcare systems, and they will need to think innovatively about how to ensure underserved populations are benefitting from new care methods. For example, providers have begun to expand reimbursement for telehealth services provided during COVID-19. Audio-only services delivered on phones have been expanding to include additional health focus areas such as behavioral health and patient education. Audio-only connections allow providers to connect with all the communities they serve, specifically those who do not have access to smartphones or high-speed internet. This particularly benefits at-risk populations, including seniors, lower-income families, and individuals with disabilities.

Employers proactively investing in employee health.

Now more than ever, organizations must show that they are proactively protecting employees’ health while they are at work, increasing the need for healthcare experts and workers on-site. By investing in these safety measures, employers can show support for their staff and employees can remain productive and engaged.

One area that is growing in popularity in the U.S. is employer-provided healthcare, where nurses and physicians are staffed on the premises. This allows employees to seek health evaluations at work, ultimately reducing concerns about being exposed to dangerous situations. For companies that are still working remotely, many are enlisting the services of medical experts to implement effective safety procedures for when offices do reopen. By taking the next step to hire an in-house occupational health professional, companies can help employees feel confident about returning to and working from the office.

With many organizations requiring that office-based employees be screened to minimize the risk of infection, there has been an increased demand for office temperature takers who are trained to properly conduct temperature checks. While it is uncertain how long the demand for this new role will exist, it demonstrates that organizations are serious about protecting employee health.

Keeping mental health top of mind.

The pandemic has not only taken a physical toll, but it has caused people around the world to grapple with fear, isolation and loss.

There will be a continued focus on mental health for the general public beyond COVID-19. By keeping mental health front and center, the hope is that any lingering stigmas that have kept people from seeking treatment will lessen, and that prevention and wellness become the norm. Telehealth advancements have also made it easier for mental health professionals to evaluate and treat patients virtually, allowing patients to get the care they need from the privacy of their own homes.

In addition to the patients they serve, healthcare professionals and front-line workers are also experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, leading to incidents of compassion fatigue, burnout, anxiety and depression. To minimize the negative impact and increase resilience, healthcare systems have implemented resources such as support and mental wellbeing networks and Chief Wellness Officers. Because of the global shortage of healthcare workers, burnout and mental well-being will be an ongoing issue even after the pandemic, so putting these support measures in place now will have longer term benefits.

Data insights paving the way forward

Prior to the pandemic, healthcare systems had been historically reactive with data. COVID-19 has shown us the value of proactive, real-time analytics and how it allows health care leaders to quickly make important decisions that are backed by facts and numbers.

Through de-identified patient data and algorithms, health systems can track potential infections to mitigate the spread of disease faster than before. Real-time data also allows health systems to prioritize which patients to treat, accelerate treatment development and even analyze supply-use to ensure health providers have necessary equipment in-stock.

To sort through these growing levels of data, data analysts and data scientists will be in high demand. Organizations will rely on these roles to interpret and understand data, implement a data governance strategy, and train staff members on the importance of capturing correct data.

Conclusion

We still have work to do to manage the spread of the virus in the absence of a vaccine or treatment. Every day, we learn more not just about the virus itself, but about the considerations we must make as a society to address the health and economic turmoil caused by COVID-19. The pandemic has disrupted routines, creating the ideal condition for experimenting and accelerating change. The healthcare industry needs to continue thinking innovatively and preventatively so that we are better equipped to manage forthcoming COVID-19 spikes and waves – and future global health issues.

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