As of this writing, there have been over 300,000 cases of coronavirus and over 7,000 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a matter of weeks, this pandemic has turned our society upside down, affecting every nation’s industry. We know the following:
- 9/11 changed the face of homeland security and aviation.
- The 2008 financial crisis revolutionized the financial industry.
- The novel coronavirus — also known as COVID-19 — will transform healthcare.
Those working on the healthcare frontlines — such as doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists — are battling a novel virus that they still have much to learn from. Their courage and commitment to this public health crisis only mark the beginning of the trends we’re witnessing in healthcare. But how will COVID-19 impact healthcare in the long run? Below are five predictions.
1. Telehealth Will Become the New Normal
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COVID-19 has transformed telehealth’s reputation from being an occasional option to a necessity. To slow the spread of the pandemic, recent legislation has allowed for greater expansion of telehealth.
Now more than ever, patients and healthcare providers have greater access to a vast array of telehealth services, such as:
- Chatbots. These are computer programs that converse with patients, answer their questions, monitor their health, and schedule their appointments.
- Virtual sick visits (for patients with infectious diseases) prevent exposure to others in waiting rooms.
- Sophisticated referral management systems ensure accurate and convenient specialty consults, saving patients and providers time and money.
According to a 2019 study, 48.7% of patients reported that the quality of care during a telehealth visit was less than that of a doctor’s office visit. However, with more healthcare professionals turning to remote work, patients realize that digital health doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction but enhances it.
2. More Emphasis on Public Health
This isn’t America’s first battle with a pandemic. In fact, there have been four pandemics in the past century, with the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic being the worst. Regardless, people don’t want to experience such harsh disruptions to their daily lives.
COVID-19 can affect anyone, young or old. The virus, however, appears to have a more severe and even fatal effect on older adults. Therefore, public health measures, particularly to protect the most vulnerable (older adults and the immunocompromised), are essential.
Like most service-oriented industries, healthcare facilities, big and small, have implemented procedures to assure patient safety, such as screening forms, temperature checks, and more assertively encouraging the use of handwashing, or at the very least, hand sanitizer.
Case in point, urgent care center provider Concentra stated that they “Implemented strict cleaning regimens that include frequent disinfection of door handles and other hard surfaces to help reduce and mitigate possible contamination.”
According to a HealthLine report, it takes around 66 days for a new habit to become permanent. Depending on how long practices such as social distancing last, society may find itself adopting new protocols in workplaces and facilities that prioritize accountability regarding health.
In an interconnected society where touch is part of our culture, we’re becoming more aware that infectious disease is everyone’s problem.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Help Us Prevent Pandemics
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It’s been reported that on Dec. 30, 2020, a machine utilizing AI successfully detected an “unusual bump in pneumonia cases in Wuhan (where the virus originated.” That was nine days before the World Health Organization (WHO) formally identified this occurrence as COVID-19. However, AI has its limits.
AI algorithms track reported accounts from sources, such as hospitals, the media, and governmental authorities. If these sources are over-reported or under-reported, AI can’t make an accurate prediction. Without consistent predictions, preventing the spread of disease remains a challenge.
By analyzing patient records, AI can more accurately predict trends to help society prepare resources, including a vaccine, to mitigate a public health disaster. However, digital companies — including AI technology vendors — must tread carefully due to HIPAA restrictions and public attitudes towards health privacy.
Now that we’re battling a pandemic where precise data to predict, diagnose, and treatment is imperative, the question begs to be asked: How much of our privacy are we willing to give up to prevent a future pandemic?
4. The Shortage of Healthcare Professionals Will Worsen
Before COVID-19, the United States reported that it would face a projected shortage of 122,000 physicians by 2032 and 200,000 nurses for the year 2020. Among the reasons are:
- A rapidly retiring older adult population, many of whom were hospital care providers themselves
- Work burnout from feeling overburdened and understaffed, motivating hospital care providers to switch specialties or leave the field entirely
- Lack of funding and faculty for educational programs, particularly for nursing and doctor residency programs
COVID-19 catalyzes public awareness of a healthcare system under unsurmountable pressure from a lack of clinicians. Healthcare facilities are combating the current gaps in staffing in various ways, including:
- Hiring temporary staff, such as travel nurses and locum tenens physicians
- Providing an additional incentive to staff, like “hazard pay” or “crisis pay.”
- Utilizing telehealth services to decrease the influx of admissions into the hospital
It won’t be easy to sustain the healthcare system without offering incentives and support to potential and existing healthcare workers.
5. Patients Will Expect More Expertise, Authenticity, and Innovation
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In 2018, The New York Times stated that only 34% of Americans trusted medical leaders. Further, during the most recent disease outbreaks (like Ebola), less than one-third of the population trusted governmental public health officials. In 2020, with misinformation about the novel coronavirus running rampant, many people were more discriminating regarding the information they’re being given.
Social media platforms, like Youtube and Instagram, and news reports, have been unexpected channels for trusted healthcare providers to communicate their experience with providing medical care during this time. This level of authenticity earns respect and trust from health consumers.
Patient engagement builds a meaningful connection with patients and tailoring services to meet patients’ unique needs. Healthcare IT News says that, as a solution, “In 2020, providers and health systems will look to more unified, omnichannel solutions to improve the healthcare consumer experience and close gaps in care.”
Older adults with chronic health conditions will need ways to manage health a convenient part of their lives. On the opposite side of the life span, Millennials, armed with their own research, tend to favor non-traditional forms of healthcare, per Forbes.
Innovative technology, along with a multi-disciplinary approach, can help cultivate a healthcare system built on trust and compassion for all generations.
The Bottom Line
No one knows what the effects of the novel coronavirus will be on society.
We’re witnessing a surge in demand for technology, such as telehealth and AI, to meet patient access, engagement, and safety challenges.
We’re seeing public health issues resonate with more individuals and change how we interact with one another.
Through this pandemic, we’re getting a closer look at the shortage of healthcare workers and the threat it poses to millions of Americans’ health.
Lastly, we’re being reminded of what patients want from clinicians and leaders: expertise, transparency, and above all, to be treated as unique human beings.