Healthcare delivery has changed dramatically over the past few months. We’ve seen significant adjustments to policies around personnel, procedures, and delivery, and further changes are likely ahead. However, although these changes are novel, they’re not necessarily unexpected. According to Gensler, large “shocks” to the healthcare system have historically been the impetus behind large-scale healthcare delivery shifts. The 1918 ‘flu pandemic, for example, drove major change in disease prevention, hospital design, and public health initiatives.
So, what might COVID-19 mean for the future of our healthcare system?
Systems that Flex with Demand
Efficiency, patient-centered care, and cost-effective practices have become critical goals for our healthcare systems. While these are all admirable efforts, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed weaknesses in our ability to address novel or outlier situations. It has also shown the inability of our existing systems to “flex” to meet a shift in needs.
With more pandemics undoubtedly on the horizon, our healthcare infrastructure needs to plan for suddenly increased capacity. This may involve equipping current and new buildings to meet an influx of patients, or it may entail designing parking facilities or nearby support buildings so that they can be quickly converted for patient care.
Telehealth Will Become Normalized
Until recently, telehealth has been a rarely used alternative to in-person care, with most telehealth services geared toward rural or chronically ill patients. This has been due to the way that telehealth consultations have historically been billed and reimbursed, as well as challenges around meeting HIPAA requirements when using digital communications technology.
However, with patients avoiding in-person care, telehealth reimbursement charges, and the relaxing of regulations around approved software, telehealth will likely continue to see an uptick in popularity. There are many reasons that some patient demographics are turning to telehealth: it’s efficient, convenient, private, avoids long waits or commutes, and allows patients to access care across state lines.
Governments Will Prioritize Healthcare Investment
As the current pandemic has made abundantly clear, governments are concerned about the impact of viruses on both the public’s physical and economic health. We anticipate seeing large-scale, strategic investments designed to improve healthcare provisions. Further investment will also be made to ensure that hospitals and clinics are appropriately resourced in the event of further outbreaks.
For example, with rural hospitals already at risk of closures, investment is vital to ensure that these populations are supported – especially during a pandemic situation. Additionally, a greater emphasis on appropriate PPE is essential to ensure that frontline health workers are protected from illness. According to a UC Berkeley forum, we will likely see new investments in national emergency preparedness efforts and private-public partnerships led by competent changemakers.
Positive Change Is Ahead
Although COVID-19 has laid bare the many weaknesses of the US healthcare system, we are now in a position where we can advocate for change that benefits both patients and providers. We expect to see our current system evolve to incorporate proactive systems of care, remote care, and additional funding at all levels – all of which will remove much of the risk and uncertainty from the healthcare system on behalf of both those providing and receiving care.