The coronavirus pandemic has seriously challenged the medical community, but not in vain. We have learned so much in the past year about what we’re doing right and what we could be doing better. Now, it’s up to us to make sure we don’t forget these important lessons.
What the healthcare industry can take away from a year-long pandemic.
Communication Is Key.
With regard to the community we serve, communication has been our greatest tool. Clear, continual, and compassionate communication from the outset allowed us to keep patients informed of the best way to protect themselves and their family. Then, as the COVID—19 outbreak continued, we were able to tell patients where to go for care, how to safely return to work and school, and when vaccines would be available for them. At each point, communication was crucial to minimizing fear and uncertainty, dispelling misinformation, and instilling trust in patients needing care.
Besides the importance of good communication, we’ve also learned to expand the dialogue with patients and the greater community. In the past, healthcare networks tended to provide information only when and where it was requested. Now, we know how to meet people where they are. Utilizing tv, social media, the web and radio, it’s possible not only to diffuse information, but also to have a conversation. The community can ask questions, raise concerns, and get answers in real-time.
Management & Healthcare Workers Must Be on the Same Page.
Similar to external communications, internal communication is necessary for successful crisis management. And we learned that that communication must come from the top-down in emergency situations. This ensures that management and employees are on the same page, even while working under pressure.
States and healthcare networks with decisive leadership have fared this storm better because management, workers, and patients alike were guided through it. The spread of the virus was better contained when health experts, rather than politicians, led public messaging and the state’s coordinated response.
For example, UCLA Health developed a crisis management team to make quick decisions. It was built as “a military hierarchy; there’s really no democracy. Things are nimble and agile because you generally have a single person calling all of the shots.” Now, the healthcare system plans to maintain this structure for future pandemics and other tense circumstances.
Crisis Preparedness Cannot Be Overlooked.
During the pandemic, many health care systems have shifted to a more agile decision-making approach to coordinating patient care and optimizing limited resources. But have we learned any lessons about preparing for crises?
Preparing for the unexpected, should be an ongoing process that is integrated into the regular activities of an HCS. According to Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare, the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced this integration.
“Ensuring response plans are flexible and scalable. You can’t predict exactly what a disaster will bring, but if you know what tools you have in your tool kit, you can pull out the right one you need when you need it.” — Linda Mastandrea, director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Healthcare Providers Need Support to Avoid Fatigue.
Medical staff are devoted to patient care, but it’s crucial to remember that they are humans too. It’s hard to stay motivated while doing strenuous work, for long hours, and in difficult conditions. Whether they were dealing with shortages of PPE or the challenges of working from home, the ongoing stress has made it difficult to retain the workforce.
How can we work to stave of fatigue and support staff?
- In addition to clear leadership, there is a need for leaders to be informed from the bottom-up. This includes regular check-ins with department heads and frontline managers.
- Two-way dialogue within the healthcare structure helps gauge workers’ needs, and concerns, while working to keep motivation high. All health care workers should be encouraged and know the channels available to them for providing feedback either directly or anonymously.
- Continual communication not only makes workers feel heard, but it helps to decrease fear and uncertainty. Providing tangible, practical information, whenever possible, helps decrease anxiety among workers and increase their confidence on the job. Communications teams should work closely with management to keep employee safety and health – both physical and mental – at the top of the agenda.
- Encourage self-care and taking personal time whenever possible.
- Provide staff with access to resources and professional support during and following a crisis situation.
Increasing Efficiency Is Important to Survival.
Both on the business side and patient care side, productivity has become more important. As staffing becomes more difficult, time and resources are squeezed, and profits are down, efficiency has become a main focus for all in the healthcare industry.
COVID-19 forced everyone to do more with limited time and resources. It’s underscored the importance of working smarter, and we’ll continue pursuing opportunities to enhance efficiency while providing world-class care as we move into the future.” – Linda Reed, RN, FCHIME, LCHIME, vice president, information technology and chief information officer at St. Joseph’s Health
Coming up with creative ways to cut costs, without damaging the quality of patient care, will continue to be a concern as we move forward.
Technology Can Be Leveraged to Provide Better Access to Medical Care.
One of the most important lessons that we’ve learned during the pandemic is that innovation is possible. We saw how quickly the Department of Health and Human Services relaxed HIPAA regulations to enable greater use of digital platforms. Practitioners adopted telehealth technology at a record pace and successfully expanded patients’ access to care while increasing safety for the entire community.
“This pandemic has revealed the need for additional investment and innovation around virtual health and outpatient services.” – Mitchell Clark, president of Cerner CommunityWorksSM
As we look to the future, technology will continue to provide us with new ways to deliver cost-effective healthcare that is scalable across larger geographic areas.
For more information on how PatientCalls can help your HCS reduce costs and increase efficiency, contact our office.