As humanity approached another year, an unprecedented public health crisis known as COVID-19 emerged. COVID-19 is a communicable disease induced by a new type of virus known as the novel coronavirus. This disease primarily attacks an individual’s respiratory system.
Infected people with mild to moderate conditions may recover from the disease without special treatment. However, individuals with existing health conditions are more susceptible to developing serious complications.
One can contract the virus through nasal discharge and saliva droplets from an infected person. Since the disease can easily spread through physical contact, everyone is encouraged to limit social gatherings, and people are advised to stay at least six feet away from each other when outdoors while wearing face masks.
COVID-19 Impacts on Healthcare and Medical Landscape
The COVID-19 pandemic was an unwelcome addition to what started as a hopeful year, and it has since caused absolute chaos to various facets of society. To name a few, COVID-19 had impacts on the economy, particularly the tourism, leisure, automotive, and most importantly, the healthcare industries.
When the pandemic proliferated in different parts of the globe, most public and private healthcare institutions weren’t prepared. COVID-19 indeed exposed incompetent, overburdened healthcare systems in various countries, but fortunately, several medical industries proved that they can manage the outbreak.
Staggering healthcare costs, incompetent leaders, lack of affordable healthcare access to the poor and marginalized, understaffed medical facilities, and other cracks in the healthcare system demonstrated that even before the pandemic, the healthcare system is struggling way back then. It’s a huge indication that the war against COVID-19 is far from over.
While it may have happened in a cruel way, COVID-19 pushed the healthcare industry into many important realizations and opportunities for better healthcare management and fulfillment, which will be tackled in this article.
First Things First—The New Normal
Starting from today, people have to live the ‘new normal’ life. Pre-pandemic, people took advantage of going out and traveling without any worries, but this health crisis made enormous shifts to people’s way of life.
In the new normal, the entire population—not just the healthcare industry—will live in a completely different way. Here are some circumstances on how the new normal may look like:
- Masks as a part of everyday fashion
- Less travel and more at-home stays
- Increased standards for personal hygiene
- A new configuration of public transport
- Distanced queuing
- Reduced communal activities
- Shift to online learning and remote working
- Increased use of social media
As the society cooperates to make a COVID-19-free world, it’s undeniable that the pandemic will have permanent impacts on their lifestyle. Since the healthcare industry is one of the most affected industries, it’s bound to improve even further because of this health crisis. After the indeterminable duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, what changes could occur in the healthcare industry? Will these transformations protect humanity from what’s more to come?
Extended Diversity of Medical Careers
Healthcare workers played a critical role in this pandemic as it’s an issue directly related to the healthcare industry. Although healthcare workers proved that not all heroes wear capes but medical gowns and scrub suits, did you know that employment rates in various nations significantly dropped?
Case in point, United States medical workers witnessed a 14.7% unemployment rate, which is equivalent to 1.4 million jobs lost in the healthcare industry. Non-essential healthcare workers that aren’t actively involved in battling the pandemic, like physicians and dentists, were hit the hardest.
However, because of the importance of epidemiologists, registered nurses, and lab technicians during this health emergency, the healthcare industry opened new opportunities to expand medical careers.
Despite the struggles faced by the medical industry today, it’s still anticipated to develop over the next decade. For instance, geriatric medicine is increasingly relevant as the main victim of serious COVID-19 illness is the older population, meaning those aged 65 and higher.
Many countries like the United States are known to have a nurse shortage. If the healthcare industry doesn’t act early, they will not be ready for another pandemic like COVID-19 in the future due to a lack of essential nurses.
Hence, medical schools now offer more diverse career tracks for aspiring nurse practitioners. They also have more opportunities to advance their careers through MSN programs. As the pandemic still poses dangers of face-to-face education, medical education institutions will need to work on effective online learning.
Also, here are other fast-growing healthcare careers that will arise post-COVID-19:
- Home and personal care aides
- Physician assistants
- Occupational therapy assistants
- Clinical laboratory technicians and technologists
- Human service specialists
- Speech-language pathologists
Innovative Recalibration of Healthcare Goals
The pandemic was clear evidence of how healthcare systems and governments differ in various parts of the world. Countries such as Singapore, New Zealand, Saudia Arabia, and Iceland managed to respond effectively to the disease, but why do many countries still struggle to contain the infection?
These lucky countries had a few things in common: competent healthcare systems, administrative agility, and the ability to act early. Unfortunately, countries with consistently rising cases lack these qualities. Several countries have learned their lessons, and, hopefully, have had their respective healthcare industries recalibrate public healthcare goals.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) set out an excellent example of how mapping out specific goals can offer faster and more effective solutions. To make healthcare goals innovative and feasible, they have to be measurable and time-bound.
On the early onsets of the COVID-19 pandemic, CEPI highlighted their objective: find and formulate a vaccine within 16 weeks. As a result of this focused goal, the Phase I trial of the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate proceeded in less than 10 weeks, and other vaccine candidates followed next.
Looking at the bigger picture, most countries, regardless of their ongoing COVID-19 success, are aiming to flatten the curve. To achieve this, healthcare systems coordinated with the national and local government units, policymakers, epidemiologists, and the general public. Altogether, they focused on limiting the spread of infection by monitoring the number of cases while treating the ill.
Simply put, the healthcare industry and government will need to prioritize public health emergencies in the future proactively and innovatively. After choosing well-defined initiatives, then they can allocate resources and ensure that they’re utilized for the right goals.
Rise and Utilization of Digital Health Options
Even before the pandemic, technology had already made innumerable contributions to the medical and healthcare industry. One of the best applications of technology to healthcare is the telemedicine that enables healthcare professionals to deliver diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and assessment to patients without an in-person appointment.
Some of the profound applications of telemedicine include:
- Prescription compliance
- Chronic health management
- General healthcare and medicine education
- Capture and storage of medical data
- Remote follow-up visits
Due to the uncertainties brought by COVID-19, it will take a long time before healthcare services get back to normal. Thankfully, digital health options like telemedicine are here to stay during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Patients that are scared to seek diagnosis and treatment in healthcare facilities housing COVID-19 patients can opt for telemedicine instead. Even suspected COVID-19 patients can get virtually in touch with healthcare professionals to undergo disease screening, testing recommendations, and isolation guidance.
COVID-19 inspired telemedicine improvements as more people started using this technology. The biggest challenge for the app developers is to optimize telemedicine for both virtual and in-person care utilization. The increasing demand for telemedicine will also encourage the following changes in the technology:
- Improved healthcare access for long-term use
- Inclusion of telehealth in state and federal regulations
- Development of fraud detection methods
- Improvement of digital connectivity
Increased Healthcare Costs and Expenditures
The COVID-19 pandemic era is a critical time to put healthcare into priority more than ever. However, there’s an exacerbating concern regarding the affordability of healthcare, particularly in regions where healthcare access is limited and medical costs are skyrocketing.
For example, in the United States, insured individuals are worrying how they’ll be able to afford their COVID-19 bills, even despite having insurance coverages. Loss of jobs and financial opportunities add to the burden of many families trying to prepare for their future healthcare costs.
Fortunately, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act reduces the financial burden for some costs related to COVID-19 testing and medical leave. However, COVID-19 treatment costs are carried by the patient, and will depend on their type of coverage. Many patients have also experienced unexpected bills from out-of-network providers which are surprisingly outside their insurer’s coverage. These circumstances are extremely burdensome to the public. Along with people’s concerns about their health, they might even be more anxious about seeking diagnosis and treatment because of the associated costs.
How will healthcare costs and expenditures change after the pandemic? Will it become more expensive or affordable? Unfortunately, the healthcare costs for the next few years are still uncertain, but there are potential scenarios for care utilization that are being looked into.
According to the analysis performed by the Journal of Accountancy, U.S. citizens should expect an increase in healthcare costs over the next decade at an average rate of 2.4% from 2019 to 2028 in terms of healthcare prices of individual patients.
Widened Health Insurance Coverage
As mentioned earlier, telehealth will take the center as the world steps into technological advancements combined with the repercussions of COVID-19. Because of significant improvements in telehealth, health insurance policymakers will definitely look into growing adoption and coverage of telehealth services. Also, telehealth app developers may include comprehensive payment features that will make it easier for payors to secure specialist services regardless of physical distance.
Since most U.S. households are covered by the employer-sponsored insurance (ESI), job loss also means loss of health insurance coverage for many citizens. This conflict between the healthcare industry and economy highly impacted the health and financial security of these families.
Because of this, people should cut reliance on ESIs to ensure financial stability in the long run. The federal government should be the one responsible in providing healthcare insurance to low-income families and citizens over the age of 65.
Robotic Advancements to Limit Human Risk Exposure
In this technological age, the emergence and advancements of robotics are no surprise, but the COVID-19 health crisis emphasized the urgency of implementing these works of technology, especially in the healthcare, medicine, and allied disciplines. Since COVID-19 is an infectious disease that can be transferred through close human contact, the use of robotics and automation will be handy in the management and control of COVID-19 spread.
Essentially, robots and automated systems will help medical staff in carrying out precise and complex tasks. They can also reduce a worker’s workload through accomplishing easier assignments, hence increasing efficiency and productivity of healthcare institutions.
To limit COVID-19 transmission inside and outside medical facilities, the healthcare industry may look into employing the following robots:
- Hospital receptionist robots
- Ambulance robots
- Surgical robots
- Telemedicine robots
- Serving robots for food delivery, drug disposal, waste transportation, and more
- Cleaning robots
- Disinfestation robots
Continuation of Elective Care
During a pandemic, healthcare and medical efforts are directed to resolving the existing public health crisis. Therefore, one should expect that non-elected and non-COVID-19 care will be interrupted and delayed. Specifically, outpatient services have plummeted by 25% and most outpatient care recipients shifted to telemedicine.
But the healthcare industry can’t postpone these healthcare services for too long as people suffering from chronic health conditions will get worse. When elective care resumes amid the pandemic, medical facilities should be more careful in appointing consultations, testing, and surgeries. Healthcare institutions may also incorporate robotics and automation discussed earlier.
Many specialized healthcare services have been reopening in places with low disease transmissions. It’s crucial for people to take care of their general health while staying vigilant from the dangers of COVID-19. These specialized services are paramount in maintaining health and wellness, including dentistry for oral and dental health, nutrition for diet regulation and deficiencies, gynecology and obstetrics for vaginal health and pregnancy, and many more.
However, some major healthcare facilities may not be able to regulate consistent elective care, as their resumption readiness is highly affected by geographic origin. Here are considerations that institutions should take note of in resuming elective care:
- A decrease of reported COVID-19 cases within two weeks in the community
- Supply reliability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for 30-day operations
- Availability of COVID-19 testing and craft testing policies
- Capacity of key healthcare facilities such as diagnostic imaging, anesthesia units, operating rooms, and critical care
The healthcare and medical industry operates at full capacity during every public health emergency, as they should. As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc globally, many industries were badly wounded while some were thriving. Being the center of COVID-19 response, the healthcare industry will face numerous changes that will transform the future of health and medicine—ideally, for the better.