Despite all the uncertainties of this moment, there is an undeniable certainty: the pandemic has changed and will fundamentally change the health sector and how these companies are managed. The “new normal” will bring new challenges and, together with it, new opportunities, and responsibilities.
The expansion of health services, which occurred in greater intensity in the last two decades, produced a disorderly, disintegrated, and fragile offer among services, and which now in the pandemic by COVID-19 has become even more evident. In this scenario, we still have financing based on payment for services performed and the inadequate preparation of institutions to meet the demand arising from the strong demographic transition that we are experiencing. Many management models in force until then, focused on productivity, no longer respond to market and especially user expectations.
This crisis showed that we need to change the speed to solve the problems that preoccupied us before COVID-19 – insufficient number of professionals, inadequate budgets, inefficient information and management systems and weak organizational structures.
Access to Health Resources
We no longer need to defend investments in health, all countries have learned the hard lesson that a pandemic can destroy the global economy and cost trillions. Investing in prevention and health promotion is investing in the economy.
Public health has never been a field of great interest, but after COVID-19, we may not need to sell public health. The pandemic emphasized the critical importance of social determinants of health and the need for social investments.
Furthermore, we no longer need to justify why solidarity and collaboration are fundamental to keeping the world healthy and safe. However, the distribution of health resources currently does not consider the social context and the real needs of the population to whom technologies are being employed.
Less tolerance for wasted resources
The pandemic requires quick responses and actions. We are forced to learn quickly what works best. Some responses to the pandemic will be more effective than others. Knowing which parts of our bureaucracy respond most effectively, so that we can support them in the future, will be a learning experience. It is also essential to learn how to better use data, evidence, and technology to improve our ability to respond to crises. Inefficient and unnecessary spending will be even more visible during this crisis. This pandemic will force us to articulate what is most important and to prioritize investments.
In addition, like other companies, healthcare systems will need to adjust team activities and reconfigure their administrative and non-clinical spaces (from registration desks to waiting rooms and cafeterias) to ensure the safety of patients and staff. They will need to optimize clinical operations and supply chains to allow for greater flexibility and capacity in case of localized peaks in COVID-19 cases. The balance between clinical and non-clinical staff will need to be adjusted to reflect low productivity and the need to improve operational efficiency.
The strategic references used for this “new moment” should focus on the results of market and company analysis, on the organization’s purpose, obeying principles and values, its viability according to the resources made available and the promotion of involvement and commitment to people. Never has human capital been so important and at the same time neglected by institutional policies that promote better use of the workforce and consequently better distribution of resources.
More flexibility and greater integration
We will see renewed attention and the positioning of health on the political agenda and as people become more aware of the role of governments in health, it will be difficult to reverse the positive measures adopted. Now, most people do not have access to quality health care. This crisis is offering the opportunity to transform relations between the public and private sectors, academy, local partners in society and the community to promote collaboration and create the resilience necessary to respond and prevent future crises.
To solve these problems effectively, organizations will need to increase cooperation across the assistance infrastructure.
Health services, more than companies in other sectors, were already facing long-term financial pressures, including loss of revenue and changes in the revenue mix. Now, they will have to reinvent themselves in the way they conduct business to operate under new restrictions, restore consumer confidence, treat users when they really need care and, ultimately, maintain the health of the population they serve. Unfortunately, they do not have the luxury of time. Every day and week that passes means more financial instability and delays.
Health services will have to identify ways to differentiate themselves in order to obtain competitive advantages, such as through digital and virtual superior care.
After the pandemic, we expect health to be characterized by access to information and safe, quality care for all.
Communication will change forever
The health sector will have to adapt to a new ecosystem and find ways to become more agile and expand access.
Making everything virtual will require innovative ways to engage customers.
The way companies communicate directly with users must also change. Materials such as brochures for waiting rooms should be adapted to the new virtual environment. Innovative ways to transmit evidence-based health information clearly and online will have to be developed. You will need to find channels to communicate to users what is really needed to maintain their health.
Being a digital company, it will no longer be an option or a future action (“this is not the time yet, many executives said…) to become the company’s operational base. Face-to-face does not die but is no longer an obligation. The technology will allow the health system to be much more agile and adaptable than it is today. The current model is based on physical trips to doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals, we will not stop having doctors and hospitals, but with the use of technologies, the sector may be much more comprehensive. As a result, legislation and organizational and management processes will change.
Knowledge becomes a competitive tool with the greatest technological integration. The access to more and more content and virtual interaction allows clinical discussions with users to transcend the old and submissive doctor-patient relationship.
Society will no longer be the same
The pandemic caused and will cause profound changes in people’s behavior, values, and beliefs. Solidarity resurfaces in opposition to the individualism prevailing before COVID-19. The family regains its important role in each person’s life. Partnerships are strengthened. And the knowledge, much more accessible, will allow a substantial growth in citizenship and preservation of the environment. Self-care will be part of people’s lives. Access to health care will be a right more than required. Both users and healthcare professionals will have new needs and expectations.
Renewed focus on public health and self-care
After the pandemic there will be a renewed emphasis on public health. While hospitals remain overwhelmed with the care of COVID-19, with elective procedures being canceled, the importance of self-care will increase, and more people will question what should be considered essential.
Governments will have to implement public health promotion programs that aim to serve the population in a more equal way. Behind this equality is the humanist principle that everyone’s life has the same value.
Health professionals, as well as patients, should be more critical when ordering and performing exams and elective procedures. The risk of current contamination should be taken more seriously by the entire health production chain, including users, and considered when deciding to perform a non-essential procedure.
Transform the system, making the reforms that the pandemic forced permanent.
Whether the pandemic will change the way the health system is being managed is an open question.
How will the future of hygiene be, for example, which has been an effort against the Coronavirus. Hygiene is an area that is likely to be profoundly redesigned by this crisis. This changed everyone’s life. There will be a greater frequency of cleaning the shared surfaces, we will have restrictions on the number of people who can crowd in an elevator, Uber, buses, and airplanes will average the deep cleanings they do.
Before COVID-19, the “CDC” recorded and published that: “on average, health professionals wash their hands less than half the time they should, despite persistent and quality-focused efforts to improve that number. Outside of hospitals, research suggest that hand hygiene is also surprisingly bad. Ten percent of people do not wash their hands after using the bathroom. Another room doesn’t use soap. ”
Let us consider Artificial Intelligence and digital transformation. This crisis broke the barriers of regulation and remuneration through temporal decisions. While some champions are anxious, if not desperate, to invoke the pandemic as the transformative event that will bring digital to medicine, many are less convinced. Others, however, still hope that, despite a difficult start, this is the best time for technology.
“Microsoft board member and chief scientist, Dr. Eric Hovitz, described it as a shot to the moon. Optimism is needed about the potential of data and AI to benefit medicine in the long run. But figuring this out will not be as easy as some optimists expect. The need for a high volume of relevant, high-quality data will complicate matters.”
Another important issue is linked to legal regulations: how to balance the potential benefits of virtual technologies to the invasion of privacy. Are the emerging technologies in the health scenario vigilant to the legal norms of digital security?
We need to emphasize that right now health versus privacy is not a choice and we must ensure that the digital tools we use have robust data governance provisions from the start, otherwise the rights that we waive during this crisis may be impossible to recover after it’s all over.
Time has run out, the decisions we make now will shape the future of the healthcare system, and we can only make them based on the current world view. If we do not now have a comprehensive view of everyone, the future will be decided at random.
No one can predict the specific changes that we are going to witness. Any planned scenario now is likely to be far from the truth.
We still do not know all the answers. What we do know is that decision makers will now have to redesign health care strategy. The next “normal” will be nothing like what we left behind.
As the saying goes, “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle”.