For every healthcare organization, it’s been “all coronavirus” for many, many weeks. If you are a salesperson calling about something other than COVID-19, you are politely asked to call back in a few months. Vital service line discussions have been put on hold. And now we’ve hit what’s projected to be the hardest two weeks in this pandemic for the US. Which means stay home, stay put, and realize that healthcare as we know it has drastically changed in ways that we can’t even fathom.
This can buckle and break us, or this can be the catalyst in which a phoenix of ideas rises from the ashes to build a stronger after.
For my fellow colleagues who offer consulting, product and service solutions to healthcare, I offer my thoughts as a catalyst for greater thoughts to emerge. What do healthcare service organizations need to consider once this pandemic seems to be in the rearview mirror to offer realistic, relevant assistance? Here are a few thoughts of what I think might happen next:
1. Finances will be tight and healthcare support organizations must help shoulder the burden.
Hospitals will demand we “show them the value” and require outcomes that align with their payment structure, with shared risk when possible, as we all crawl out of the hole together. Companies built on the backs of healthcare greed won’t last long, but those that are adding value to the conversation will weather the storm, gain the trust of hospital leaders, and become essential partners.
2. Outpatient services will see a surge in patients.
Americans with other comorbidities of the non-COVID-19 variety are staying at home and getting, well, sicker. On April 5, 2020, CNN released an article titled, “As hospitals focus on coronavirus, patients with other illnesses wait in fear.” The article stated what many of us in healthcare worry about: the postponement of non-COVID-19 health related issues is walking a precarious line. UCSF Health hospital in San Francisco, one of the cities hit particularly hard by COVID-19, admitted in March 2020 that they were postponing about 7,000 appointments each day. While data is just now catching up with the ramifications of such decisions, hospital systems need to be prepared for the onslaught of patients that may be coming once service lines are fully functional.
3. Vitally necessary outpatient service lines can be built quickly, if hospital leaders have the fortitude to take the risk.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis in Wuhan, China built a new hospital in 10 days. I know I watched enviously at the speed in which it happened. The US healthcare decision cycle is a long, slow laborious process. Oftentimes 18-24 months go by from when a hospital decides to open an outpatient wound care program, until the day the first patient walks across the threshold for treatment. Will this slow pain-staking process for new services continue to be the norm or will we see a surge in quickly developed outpatient service lines? I am hopeful The efforts of cities like Los Angeles who recently opened a closed hospital and renamed it Los Angeles Surge Hospital for COVID-19 continue to give me hope that hospitals will move forward efficiently with service lines, like wound care, that provide much needed preventative care in their communities (and start opening the ones they furloughed as “non-essential”).
4. Preventive medicine will take center stage.
Let’s face it, before the pandemic Americans were not the picture of perfect health:
- 34.2 million Americans have diabetes
- 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease
- 18.2 million American adults have coronary artery disease
- 70 million adult Americans are obese
When the curve has settled, perhaps preventative health and initiatives for healthy lifestyles will become an even bigger focus for our healthcare system. We’ve seen a soft shift from volume to value, but now I believe we’ll see a tsunami. COVID-19 has financially hit just about every US healthcare system and it’s estimated it will cost the US health system between $362 billion to $1.449 trillion in charges. In the aftermath, drastically reducing the amount of chronically sick patients in our country seems like good medical and fiscal sense. I think providers (and insurance companies) will do everything in their power to encourage Americans to be healthier (whether we listen will be a completely different story).
I work in the niche of wound care, but our company is representative of the many service providers out there who are looking at budgets and trying to stay ahead of the curve (pun intended). We are the group who believes in the services or products we provide, are passionate about the patient care those services and products enable, and desire to do good. For those of us who aren’t medical professionals, let’s support the medical community by thinking strategically and offering them a product and service more relevant than ever in the aftermath that ensures we all have a better healthcare future.