Post-pandemic healthcare and the window of opportunity.


The new normal

Covid-19 brought unprecedented changes and challenges that unseated even the most seasoned healthcare professionals. Life as we all knew it was turned inside out and upside down. It would never be the same again but what did we learn from that difficult time, how can something so truly devastating become the catalyst for change? Read on for advice on post-pandemic healthcare and the window of opportunity that may be open to you.

Besides all the challenges, there are also possibilities that are opening up, the window of opportunity. From this perspective, we focus on lessons from COVID-19 to increase the sustainability of health systems. If we catch the opportunities, the crisis might very well be a window for positive reforms. The positive opportunities that the COVID-19 crisis has led to measures to reduce the sources of waste for our health systems: failures of care delivery and of care coordination, over treatment or low-value care, administrative complexity, pricing failures and fraud and abuse. We argue that current events can give some direction to some very needy reforms to make our systems more sustainable.

The rise of the Virtual GP

The pandemic saw visits to local GPs drop by 60% over 2019-2021 and the use of technology for appointments became the norm reducing NHS wait times significantly. What used to take over twelve months to fulfil was now being done almost instantly. It was the dawn of a new age of medical care.

Telehealth seems to suddenly have matured and this holds great prospects to keep our health systems sustainable. The newly created familiarity with video calling may result in both patients and physicians being more open to using these technologies. The COVID-19 crisis unintendedly resulted in one of the largest trials of e-health within regular care paths for a variety of diseases. Governments, healthcare insurers, and healthcare providers should evaluate the effects of this transition and use the learning curve and experiences of healthcare providers that quickly adopted e-health to support other healthcare providers.

Reducing Low-Quality Care

Healthcare providers had to learn to prioritise keeping beds clear for critically ill patients and as a result the level of high-value care for other serious conditions was reduced. 

This includes necessary high-value care, such as chemotherapy and cardiac surgery. The degree to which such forced delays lead to actual harm to people’s health, and involve additional costs, has yet to be researched. It should be prevented by restarting this care as soon as possible. To prevent even more harm, high-value and the urgent necessary care should be prioritised over low-value care. Along with this prioritising of care, dilemmas arise on the value of hospital care and intensive care unit care for patients with short-life expectancy (including strategies of palliative care), and the consequent oppression of valuable care for other patients. 

COVID-19 probably will over the short term keep stimulating rigorous prioritisation of acute and high-value patient care over low-value care. Postponing the majority of elective diagnostics and treatments shifts the approach from acting now to watchful waiting. If this is adequately monitored, it could provide us with better real-life data on the value of care. 

The psychological and behavioural impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the healthcare environment are only just coming to light. There is a need to understand how patients, providers, and systems are handling the psychological burden of the pandemic and the behavioural responses that impact the way healthcare is experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic has induced changes within the healthcare system, and it is only with a better appreciation for the impacts of these changes that further changes can be integrated into patient care to create a suitable healthcare environment for a post-pandemic world.

Future work should focus on identifying methods for healthcare stakeholders to address the pandemic-induced gaps in patient care.

It’s easy to only focus on the negative side effects of any event, especially when as a community we’re battling a global pandemic. But for every low, there’s a high and there have been many positive things to come out of the pandemic in terms of healthcare and further improvement. Post-pandemic healthcare and the window of opportunity, what will you find?

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