As hospital and health system administrators pivoted their operations to meet crisis-level needs, many of the resulting strategies will endure within the industry for years to come. Improvements in infection control, long-needed supply chain updates, and the increasing use of telemedicine are just a few of the changes that will benefit patient care delivery in the long run.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created guidance for facilities of all types. Sanitizing, screening, masking and physical distancing are all familiar rituals by now. But those actions only touch the surface of the hard work being done in terms of operational performance.
Recommendations from the CDC include these “Ten Ways Healthcare Systems Can Operate Effectively during the COVID-19 Pandemic:”
- Enforce infection prevention and control practices.
- Encourage employee self-monitoring and isolation (if warranted).
- Support employees with meal, childcare and emotional wellness programs.
- Apply evidence-based care practices for COVID-19 patients.
- Understand the impacts of post-hospital care and transition.
- Leverage telehealth technologies to enable virtual patient care.
- Rely on metrics and follow the data for your facility, city and state.
- Report on hospital capacity to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- Improve on hospital preparedness for patient surges, staffing shortages and crisis scenarios.
- Communicate frequently and widely within your facility, as well as externally.
Staffing shortages have impacted hospitals and health systems around the world. In the most extreme cases, physicians and nurses have worked for months on end without break. Others have found themselves at home, under quarantine. Hospitals everywhere are stretched thin, trying to source reinforcements such as travel nurses and military medics.
There is also extra pressure on physician extenders – advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, medical assistants – to work at the top of their license. Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala, who served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, was quoted in Stat as saying: “Frankly, 70% of primary care could be handled by advanced practice nurses.”
In looking at how to secure Americans during future health care emergencies, Shalala speaks to the urgency to plan now for the next outbreak of an infectious disease. “The federal government [needs] to develop a reserve corps in every part of the United States that’s ready and able to come back in emergencies. They can be a wide variety of people, including the possibility of taking a look at foreign medical graduates, and maybe upgrade their training so they could be brought back under doctor’s supervision.”
Supply Chain Optimization
Supply chain disruptions and shortages also remain a reality as health systems continue to encounter roadblocks in getting what they need. The Annals of Internal Medicine helps to explain the complexity by identifying five different health care supply chains: pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, medical supplies, and blood. Interruptions in any of one these supply chains can be consequential.
That’s why the importance of supply chain efficiency has risen to the top of health care administrators’ concerns. An article in Med City News speaks to changes that a hospital or health system can take to be better prepared for future shortages and disruption. Implementing an automated supply chain process is job one. Technology can give leaders a real-time understanding of what’s in stock, plan and manage inventory, and forecast for increased demands. Hospitals and health systems should also have contingency plans in place for alternate suppliers and resource sharing.
Cardinal Health, a leader in medical product distribution and supply chain solutions, advises health system leaders to strategize, measure and standardize their supply chain practice. They recommend a scalable process that optimizes inventory space and allows for automated replenishment. Barcoding, handheld scanning devices and other technologies can provide for accurate inventory reporting and a data-driven approach – with less manual labor.
Digitization of Care
Digitization trends accelerated by COVID-19 are hallmarked by investments in supply chain automation and the rapid expansion of telemedicine. Both will be lasting changes that help to shape the hospital of tomorrow. According a McKinsey & Company report, telehealth will quickly become a $250-billion market as consumers embrace virtual services. The report estimates that 20% of ER visits could be eliminated, while 25% of outpatient and office visits could be handled online.
One of the biggest challenges for administrators is choosing the right telemedicine technology from a sea of opportunity. Software review company, Capterra, part of the Gartner Group, lists 178 different telemedicine software products on its website. The majority are web-based solutions that allow for flexibility across multiple platforms. Specialized software is also available for specific service lines like pediatrics, mental health, osteopathy and more.
Technology company Phillips sees telemedicine as one of the cornerstones of a movement toward digitization that will ultimately connect an entire health system across a “single digital infrastructure.” In this scenario, only the sickest patients will be hospitalized. This is because providers will remotely monitor patients with chronic conditions and intervene before a health emergency occurs. Preventive care will take place online and at “health hubs” in the community. Scalable mobile resources will also play a role, being deployed to where the need is greatest – whether to the site of a viral outbreak or to the home of an elderly patient.
The Future of Health and Health Care Delivery
If there is a silver lining emerging from COVID-19, it’s coming in the way of creative thinking and rapid innovation. Today’s health care leaders are setting the stage for a new tomorrow, for the hospital of the future. If you are ready to take on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, consider taking the next step forward with an online Executive Master of Health Administration degree.