A few months back, when we envisioned the future, the thought of COVID-19, or anything like it, was not in our discussions. But today, the impact this pandemic has had on health, wealth, and well-being is enormous. The American healthcare system was already working to decrease the escalating costs of healthcare when the pandemic struck. Despite the implementation of safety precautions and community measures, COVID-19 stretched healthcare resources to the brink and took the lives of thousands of people nationwide.
But the biggest question is: what next? What does the future of healthcare hold? What will healthcare delivery look like in the post-pandemic world?
Telehealth: Not a future anymore, but a necessity realized in the present
The surge in telemedicine is never going to slow down. The only thing that is destined to happen in the future is patients leveraging telehealth and virtual visits more openly and conveniently accessing care without long wait times. Thanks to global brands, such as Netflix and Amazon, the consumer now expects a comfortable, elegant, and individualized experience at every stage of the decision-making process. Needless to say, similar consumer-centricity will need to be a significant element in healthcare going forward.
In fact, Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, advises, “We should never again use the word ‘telehealth,’ just as we don’t use the word ‘telebanking.’ It’s just that 90% of banking went from the bank to the home. Much the same will happen in healthcare.
The best part about this situation is that most organizations realized and leveraged the power of astute planning in optimizing their assets and enhancing their patient outreach through telehealth, which helped to save a greater number of lives.
Who knows? This pandemic might actually open the doors to care delivery powered by Star Wars-style technology!
The world of flexibility, adaptability, and changes in predictability
The pandemic showed us that every single healthcare resource is crucial and that we must ensure there are ample supplies to cater to every patient’s needs at all times. While the conventional response to managing the high influx of patients is to increase the number of inpatient beds and ventilators, is that really the correct way to go about it?
Instead, what we can expect hospitals to do in the post-pandemic world is increase the flexibility and adaptability of the facilities in their networks. It is challenging for anyone to predict the ebb and flow of pandemic needs, considering the fact that care depends on many unprecedented factors outside of their control. So being able to ramp up and respond when the need arises and scale back when it ebbs should be the new normal. And in order to achieve that flexibility and adaptability, they need to envision the various ways they might optimize their resource utilization.
During the initial months of battling with the COVID-19 surge, there were three major areas of resource shortage, the number of hospital beds, ICUs, and ventilators (and the associated human power to staff them). The ability to predict the need for these resources, and yet build flexibility into the equation, is essential for providers to not only better manage the effects of the pandemic but also build a foundation for the post-pandemic era.
“Healthcare with no address”—The mantra for 360-degree development
Even before COVID, hospital outpatient revenue was increasing more rapidly than that of inpatient facilities. Since 1994, the mean outpatient share of hospital revenue has grown from 28% to nearly 50% by 2018. The expectation of earnings from the so-called “heads in the beds” approach is now a thing of the past.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only boosted this shift. Navigating new landmarks in the post-pandemic world to generate a profitable revenue stream is one of the top priorities for organizational leadership. The hospitalization costs of COVID-19 patients, as well as the expected impact on elective procedures and other critical clinical services, are driving the urgency felt by health networks to boost revenue.
Planning for the future—seems simple but it is complex
If only I could stress enough, the one thing that I would recommend most in this article is to prioritize future planning. This emphasis is not only referring to the major processes that evolved as a result of the pandemic, but also those small tasks such as appointment scheduling and patient triaging. Proactive planning for nursing homes and rural hospitals is going to be entirely different than what it was before.
And still, irrespective of the facility type, it is of the utmost importance that future planning becomes a part of the strategic process. It will enable the leadership to predict how health systems will respond to future events. One thing that needs to be remembered here is that future planning is not just about physical resource management—it is also about managing the staff. With healthcare slowly returning to the provision of elective clinical procedures and attending to the ongoing needs of more non-COVID patients, the importance of staff management is undeniably among the top five on the to-do list for leadership.
The road ahead
This time is a test, and once we recover from the pandemic, we will have a new opportunity to move forward as a nation well-prepared. From a preventive standpoint, healthcare organizations currently need to combine astute planning and leverage available technology to stay on top of this dynamic situation, while working to minimize the impact of the virus on its resources. In the future, we will need to share the responsibility of taking the required precautions, and it will eventually become more manageable for health organizations to deliver care efficiently, whenever and in what form it is needed.
About Dr. Paul Grundy
Dr. Paul Grundy is the Chief Transformation Officer at Innovaccer. Affectionately known as the ‘Godfather’ of the Patient-Centered Medical Home model, he is the Founding President of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) and a member of the National Academy of Medicine. Prior to Innovaccer Dr. Grundy enjoyed an esteemed career at IBM, as the Chief Medical Officer of the Healthcare Life Sciences division, and the Global Director of Healthcare Transformation.
Previous to IBM he was the Minister Consular for the US Department of State. Dr. Grundy is a globally respected healthcare convener, storyteller, and visionary – a “Trusted Healer.” He holds numerous international honorary titles and awards, including an honorary lifetime member of the UK National Association of Primary Care, an Ambassador for Healthcare DENMARK, and the first international member of the Irish National Association of General Practice. He was the recipient of the NCQA National Quality Award in 2012, and recipient of the prestigious Barbara Starfield Primary Care Leadership Award in 2016.