Innovations for COVID-19 and Beyond: How Healthcare Workers Have Revolutionized the Healthcare Industry During a Pandemic.
From deciding which patients to test to reconfiguring building layouts, healthcare workers have had to make tough choices while battling COVID-19. The pandemic has forced doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to make adjustments to their normal protocols. The difficult situations have spurred innovation, and because of the changes made while fighting COVID-19, the healthcare industry will never be the same.
Even during non-pandemic times, it is a challenge for healthcare workers to provide every patient in need with reliable care. But COVID-19 has made that mission even harder. Healthcare workers have had to deal with issues such as limited supplies of tests and protective gear. Furthermore, the industry’s standard ways of operating were quickly deemed too risky.
To provide care and, equally importantly, keep staff members healthy, providers engineered a variety of new workarounds that have allowed them to keep doing their jobs in the face of the pandemic. From reusing personal protective equipment to educating the public about hygiene protocols, these workarounds have revolutionized the healthcare industry now and for the foreseeable future.
Conducting Virtual Visits
While much of the world shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, that was never an option for hospitals and clinics. People still need access to their healthcare providers. However, carrying on with business, as usual, wasn’t an option either.
One of the first innovations for COVID-19 was the switch to telehealth appointments over the phone or an internet connection. These virtual visits were put in place as a measure to try to limit the number of patients and staff coming into hospitals and clinics. If, after a virtual consultation, the healthcare professional thought a patient might have COVID-19, they could instruct the patient to come in for testing.
In addition to potential COVID-19 patients, clinicians and other healthcare providers utilized telehealth appointments for patients with all types of conditions and needs. For many patients, these virtual visits were preferable to having to meet with the doctor in-person which, for some, requires making arrangements for transportation and childcare. Looking beyond the pandemic, telehealth appointments may provide better access to healthcare for patients due to its overall convenience.
From the early days of the pandemic, testing has been an issue in the United States and one of the areas where healthcare providers were forced to pivot. Many hospitals were forced to prioritize testing for their most serious cases. Where other countries were able to test large percentages of their population, American healthcare workers had to focus their efforts on patients with serious respiratory symptoms.
In most parts of the U.S., testing of asymptomatic carriers was nonexistent. Circumstances forced the prioritization of individuals who fell into high-risk categories due to their age or underlying health conditions. Only testing a small fraction of the population was a far cry from the widespread testing in countries like South Korea, which reported relatively low death rates from COVID-19.
Not only was limited testing an issue, but the tests available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required that patients wait three to five days to get a diagnosis. According to PBS NewsHour contributor Isabella Isaacs-Thomas, healthcare providers at the University of Washington weren’t satisfied with the turnaround time, so researchers there developed their own test. The new test provided results within 10 to 12 hours and allowed the center to conduct more tests.
Innovations with testing serve as a reminder that healthcare providers don’t need to wait on the federal government to take action. Institutions like the University of Washington have the resources to enact change all on their own. In the future, they might seek further funding to expand their already great capabilities.
Thinking Outside the Box
As with many high-pressure situations, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced healthcare workers to think outside of the box. When it became evident that normal protocols such as examining patients within hospitals and clinics were no longer safe, providers stepped up to find new solutions. For example, drive-thru clinics were set up in hospital parking garages and other locations that allowed for better ventilation.
Another area that has seen outside-the-box thinking is the treatment of COVID-19 itself. Since there is still no vaccine available, healthcare professionals on the front lines are turning to innovative techniques. One such technique is warding off COVID-19 with nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). At Cedars Sinai Medical Center, doctor Robert Huizenga gave his patients an NMN cocktail, which is the direct precursor of the essential molecule NAD+. Within 12 hours, the treatment reportedly brought down the patients’ fever and inflammation.
In addition to treatments, other innovations include conserving personal protective equipment. Worried about a possible PPE shortage down the road, providers have been reusing masks when possible and disinfecting reusable gloves and goggles. This particular innovation sets the stage for the creation of more reusable equipment such as launderable white coats.
Returning to Basics
Extreme situations often bring people back to basics and that foundation serves as a platform for innovation. At the start of the pandemic, with so little known about COVID-19, healthcare workers circled back to the tried-and-tested measures they knew stopped diseases from spreading. At hospitals and clinics across the country, staff meetings included regular reminders of best practices for using PPE and hand-washing techniques.
As with the wearing of masks, washing hands thoroughly is an important measure for reducing the chances of infection. Healthcare workers knew that to stop the spread of the virus they had to educate the community about the importance of hand-washing and how to do so properly. In fact, sharing information regarding personal hygiene habits with children and adults alike is one of the most prominent revolutionary aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Healthcare works have utilized social media and other media outlets to educate the public about the virus and how to prevent spreading it. Directly sharing information through these types of channels will influence how healthcare providers interact with the general public for years to come.
From adapting to virtual visits to educating the public via social media, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced healthcare workers to rethink how they do their jobs. The crisis has highlighted the importance of flexibility and having a contingency plan. Moving forward, the innovations made during the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the healthcare industry for the foreseeable future.