People tend to think of COVID-19 as a national or even worldwide crisis. The pandemic is everywhere, after all, and we tend to judge entire nations by their reaction to the disaster and how that reaction endangers or protects the countries around them. But a pandemic is made of millions of individual stories, and those stories, whether close calls or tragedies, all take place on the ground at the local level.
While each patient’s local public health department is ultimately responsible for delivering aid, national policies very much matter. Compare Italy’s disastrous early response to New Zealand’s nearly spotless one, or to the United States government’s floundering throughout 2020. In the macro, national efforts must drive large-scale results. Regional responses can also make a huge difference: in Canada alone, the four Atlantic provinces have successfully minimized COVID outbreaks while cases are on the rise again in Ontario. But these national and regional strategies can only be implemented at the local level, and results vary not just from county to county but neighborhood to neighborhood.
We depend on our local health departments to guide the reduction of cases, administer vaccines, help afflicted patients survive and recover, and put national and regional plans into action as best suits their constituents’ needs and habits. But as we move into the second quarter of 2021, these local organizations are being asked to roll out an accelerated vaccination schedule and watch for new and more dangerous strains of COVID-19 while maintaining their usual vigilance in tracking and reporting outbreaks, all on top of all their regular, non-pandemic-related duties. The pressure on the people who help keep our communities healthy is immense.
Fortunately, administrators and health officials can take simple steps to alleviate some of this pressure. By adopting techniques to streamline workflow, it is possible to remove needless steps from every process involved in keeping our communities healthy. Emerging best practices in process management can help ensure our healthcare departments are focused on the truly important tasks such as implementing national, regional, and local plans to get through the pandemic.
However, now more than ever, healthcare departments are so swamped that administrative personnel simply have no time to examine workflows for inefficiencies. Like a sick body limping along on inertia, whole departments push forward using cumbersome and outdated methods that waste time and effort rather than stopping to examine what might be wrong. Even in the midst of the pandemic, it may be well worth the time to audit our healthcare departments’ techniques and find where they can improve. Efficiency experts should evaluate workflows and IT departments should seek out the best software solutions to reduce the workload of both administrators and healthcare providers. Workflow solutions should always focus on pinpointing and ironing out specific issues in a department’s practices, as well as raising overall effectiveness across the board.
It is very likely many of the specific issues identified will have to do with outdated, analog, or manual processes that can be phased out and upgraded. Many systems are isolated from each other rather than integrated in a single, efficient, digital package. Often, each piece of data must be entered into multiple systems to be accessible across an organization, resulting in confusion and lost information — a situation that is not only inefficient but dangerous in the right circumstances. Health departments often pay top dollar for medical equipment while neglecting the organizational software and innovations that can streamline entire departments and save thousands of worker hours per year.
If health departments do choose to upgrade systems to address these issues, it is also vital for them to research vendors and developers. Many companies have stepped into the healthcare workflow space without much knowledge of the medical industry or its needs. A software suite that does not address a department’s specific requirements is likely to go unused and may even put them in a worse spot than they were prior to the upgrade. Before finalizing any major software upgrades, the department’s leadership team must lay out its goals for the new system, make sure these are compatible with the needs identified by IT, and assign their CIOs to draft a plan for using these systems to achieve smoother, lighter workflows.
Our local healthcare departments are each unique and dedicated to their area’s specific needs and challenges. But they all share in common the need for simpler, more approachable processes to track and provide information. By choosing the right software, created by a firm experienced in healthcare management, we can free up our healthcare departments to do the work that matters in combating COVID.
About John Schaeffer
John Schaeffer leads SSG with a vision to apply his combined IT and management consulting experience to enhance public sector organizations. Previously, he worked in financial services for Goldman Sachs, Prudential Investments, and Credit Suisse First Boston. John holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).