In 2020, the world faced an unprecedented healthcare crisis. As millions of people lost their lives to a terrifying disease, countries struggled to maintain healthy systems. The pandemic highlighted issues within healthcare that worsened a crisis, turning it into a tragedy. We also realized that pharmaceuticals, hospitals, and scientists must reduce delays in clinical trials and vaccinations. Other lessons include the importance of technology in medicine and a collaborative approach to public health issues.
Like other public health problems, most COVID-19 victims were people of color. These inequalities highlighted the long-term issues within the global healthcare system. Furthermore, a crisis of leadership turned a national emergency into a national tragedy. As world leaders took their time making time-sensitive decisions about social distancing, thousands struggled to stay alive. There have been many mistakes that cost millions of lives. So, the question arises: what can we do to strengthen our healthcare system?
As we enter the summer of vaccinations, it is the best time to learn from our experiences. There are some golden rules we can follow to stay prepared for the next global emergency.
- Focus on research: Perhaps the fundamental issue in COVID-19 preparedness was that it was an emerging situation. Public health research can bridge the gap and help doctors understand emerging diseases. But, what is public health research? It helps us understand the social, genetic, and environmental determinants of public health. Researchers monitor outbreaks to gather information on factors that increase the risk of illness. Unfortunately, several non-western countries have severely underfunded departments. And those countries which do have these departments tend to ignore significant problems. Therefore, we must focus on our research to create actionable data for the healthcare system.
- Set goals: After gathering the data, healthcare providers must identify areas for improvement. They can use the information to set goals and prioritize accordingly. Several organizations help healthcare providers establish quality measures. For example, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality publishes SOPs to provide high-quality healthcare. However, establishing guidelines is not enough. Providing quality healthcare is an evolving process. Therefore, healthcare providers must commit to regular evaluation or a PDSA cycle. The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle can improve quality and efficiency in clinical settings.
- Use technology: While the healthcare system is gradually adopting technology, change has been slow. The pandemic forced healthcare providers to think outside the box and use technology to reduce patient-doctor contact. Therefore, several healthcare providers took advantage of telehealth technology to monitor their patients. Furthermore, telehealth not only offered better care it also reduced the cost of healthcare. It can also reduce health inequities by improving access to healthcare for high-risk and vulnerable populations. For example, seniors and those with chronic illnesses do not have to waste time commuting to their health care providers. Other tech innovations such as health monitoring systems can provide valuable patient data to providers for a patient-centered approach.
- Making healthcare accessible: The foremost issue in COVID-19 was accessibility to affordable, high-quality healthcare. Patients need access to excellent healthcare at the right time for better outcomes. However, not everyone can afford healthcare. According to the Office of Health Policy, 30 million non-elderly Americans are uninsured. Therefore, they have to pay more for primary care. These patients may also put off coming to the hospital, which can exacerbate the situation. There are other accessibility issues in our fragmented healthcare industry. Providers do not share patient data, increasing delays as providers spend time on unnecessary tests. However, things are improving. There is an emerging trend of onsite clinics and wellness programs. Healthcare is focusing on consumers to provide convenient and collaborative care.
- Improving patient engagement: Patients must play an active role for a healthy, disease-free future. Therefore, they must become health advocates. However, they do not have to do this alone. Primary health care providers such as family physicians can help patients chart their healthcare journey. They can support patients through challenging times. They have in-depth information about the personal history of patients. So, primary care physicians can recommend better treatment plans and medications. They can also customize care according to individual needs. Primary care providers collaborate with insurance providers and other specialists to improve patient outcomes. They can use EHRs to track patient wellness and monitor patient health through outcomes studies and patient satisfaction surveys.
- Connect and collaborate: Healthcare does not exist in a vacuum. Therefore, healthcare organizations must research and collaborate with other providers. They can ask for support from other healthcare providers to identify goals and weaknesses. Most organizations are more than happy to share data to improve patient care. Providers can also attend workshops and symposiums to gather data. Primary care providers can help patients get in touch with specialized practitioners through referrals. Patients suffering from chronic conditions often develop several issues. For example, an obese patient may have heart disease, obesity, and COPD. With a collaborative healthcare provider, these patients can smoothly transition between healthcare providers. Providers can use EHRs that are accessible to all providers.
The healthcare system is too expensive and inefficient. Therefore, we must focus on the quality of healthcare. By fostering a collaborative attitude, our healthcare system can become reliable and cost-effective. Furthermore, technology can play a vital role in reducing delays and improving efficacy. Global healthcare systems were unprepared for the pandemic. Their unpreparedness cost everyone. We have an opportunity to avoid any future crises by improving our healthcare systems.