After a Pandemic | The Future of Healthcare
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of healthcare in the U.S. forever. Medical offices and hospitals across the country have gone through design modifications to adhere to new safety standards. Elective surgeries are at an all-time low, most healthcare facilities have opted for strict visitor protocols, and many appointments that would typically occur in-person have adapted to virtual form.
Precautions taken because of the pandemic have significantly impacted how most people have approached their health care this year. While it’s hard to predict what the future of medicine will look like, it’s reasonable to expect more contactless doctor visits, the power of data coming into hospitals, and the evolution of a coronavirus vaccine or drug development treatment.
Virtual care and medical guidance are not new to those in healthcare, but the number of patients using telemedicine has drastically heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year. The sudden uptick has pressured healthcare facilities to lean on this technology and become more comfortable meeting with patients virtually to diagnose, discuss treatment plans, and conduct follow-up evaluations.
While virtual medicine still has a way to go, many Americans have benefited from telemedicine’s convenience since the pandemic started. Dr. Lisa Yerian, Chief Improvement Office at the Cleveland Clinic, recently told U.S.A. Today, “There was a time when many people were very reluctant to use virtual technologies, but more and more people are becoming more comfortable.” Although telemedicine is not yet available in some rural cities, its capabilities are comprehensive, and the need will continue to rise as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact Tracing and Big Data
Contact tracing has successfully slowed the transmission of infectious diseases in the past, like ebola, measles, S.T.D.s, and tuberculosis. Hospitals have also used this reactive process to improve the spread of COVID-19 infections seen within their facility.
Information collected during contact tracing is typically performed by either a human contact tracer or a contact tracing application. Strict confidentially is maintained as any information collected is considered protected health data.
Many healthcare experts are generating conversations about the apparent need for a national data system that tracks infection cases and growth patterns. The future of contact tracing could fall in the hands of big data companies with advanced capabilities, including G.P.S. tracking, to determine where an infected person has been since contracting the virus. This tracking technology would have to be carefully developed to ensure personal privacy and avert its exploitation.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway the healthcare industry has taken from the COVID-19 pandemic is facility preparedness. The nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (P.P.E.) may be the most apparent shortcoming amidst the COVID-19 breakout. It’s important to note that stockpiling essential protective equipment will be vital for future health crises or even natural disasters to prepare for patient surges.
Other essential items needed during this time include ventilators and patient beds. Hospitals with P.P.E. shortages have experienced an increase in infections and deaths directly linked to these shortages. Future preparedness may involve building a reserve of these items to control unforeseen demands, potentially outpacing available supplies.
The intensity and momentum of COVID-19 have challenged hospitals in ways they haven’t seen in the past. The number of COVID-19 patients has surpassed available E.R. and I.C.U. rooms, causing patient care to expand to convention centers, hotels, and other significant areas converted into treatment centers.
Many hospitals are not equipped to withstand or accommodate sudden influxes of patients, as we’ve seen with this pandemic. The surge of patients has forced healthcare facilities to set up untraditional treatment spaces, including tents on their property, cafeterias, and lobbies. Hospital executives across the country are consulting with architects on future hospital design ideas to better adapt to any future healthcare crises.
COVID-19 has dramatically reshaped what we once knew to be our healthcare system. The U.S. must reflect on what the future of healthcare facilities might look like and has challenged hospitals to reconsider how they prioritize their resources. The pandemic has not only burdened civilians but has also drastically taxed healthcare workers. It’s also prepared us to be more resilient in the future and has spurred innovations that experts predict will influence the healthcare landscape for the foreseeable future.