Coronavirus has changed the world forever. It’s not a stretch to say that the healthcare industry is feeling the effects most of all. While the pandemic did necessitate some immediate changes, the ongoing effects could cause the entire industry to modify the way it operates. Here are seven potential long-term changes to watch for in the coming months and years.
Telemedicine is here to stay.
Virtual medicine’s popularity was slowly growing before the pandemic hit, but the virus accelerated it into high gear. The number of telemedicine appointments has increased exponentially in hopes of decreasing the spread of the virus. Once a niche experience, telemedicine will become ever more common in the post-coronavirus healthcare world, especially for routine appointments. In all likelihood, more telemedicine companies will enter the field, and some practices and hospitals might seek to develop their own proprietary telemedicine systems. Get used to chatting with your doctor via video call, because that’s the new normal.
Workforce planning is in the spotlight.
The coronavirus pandemic created a strange dichotomy for nurses and other hospital staff. Demand for healthcare professionals rose sharply in units that cared for coronavirus patients, such as the ICU. At the same time, elective procedures were suspended, causing personnel in other areas to be transferred or furloughed for weeks at a time. Some nurses donned their stretch scrubs for overtime shifts while others left their scrubs in the closet and remained home, without work. As hospitals begin to plan for another event, expect them to grapple with these issues while they outline potential solutions to deal with such extreme workforce changes. For example, some hospitals might cross-train personnel so they can move into units like the ICU if another situation like the pandemic arises again.
Healthcare coverage might expand.
Right when they needed health insurance the most, millions of people were laid off from their jobs, losing their healthcare coverage. While the idea of non-employer-run health insurance is a periodic political debate, the scope of the coronavirus layoffs has painted this issue in a new light. Many states are now considering new measures, such as waiving work requirements for Medicaid or expanding the Affordable Care Act. While it will probably take some time to enact widespread changes at a legislative level, health coverage will remain at the forefront of people’s minds (especially since a sharp recovery is looking increasingly unlikely).
Vaccines will be fast-tracked.
Under normal circumstances, vaccines take years — sometimes even decades — to be formulated, tested, and approved for widespread public use. However, the coronavirus pandemic is not a normal circumstance. Dozens of companies have already started clinical trials even though the coronavirus has only circulated for a few months. To speed things up, developers are studying SARS and MERS to shorten preparations before clinical trials. While it’s unlikely that any single vaccination will be successful (the Food and Drug Administration approves less than 10 percent of drugs that make it to clinical trials), we might get lucky and hit upon one that does work. Expect research and development to continue at a feverish pace.
The supply chain might move around.
The coronavirus pandemic increased worldwide demand for medical products such as masks and ventilators. And, another factor compounded this shortage: The pandemic hit early and hard in China, which manufactures most of the United States’ products and medical equipment. Closed Chinese factories, coupled with increased demand, meant that medical supply replacements were unavailable once the initial stock ran out. To prevent this from happening again, the manufacturing of certain key medical equipment might move back to U.S. shores. Hospitals and other facilities might also stockpile larger amounts of key emergency equipment instead of following the “just in time” model, which depends on consistent, fast deliveries from overseas factories.
The collaboration will be key.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of collaboration between both individuals and hospitals. Governors are working across state lines, and New York state combined its hospitals into a single system. This kind of collaboration will likely continue as the coronavirus pandemic wears on. In addition, you will probably see more accessible healthcare records, especially once a vaccine becomes available. The vaccine will likely be delivered in two doses, and some people might need to get those shots in two different states. For example, they might get the first shot at a clinic near their work in Virginia and the second shot at their primary care office in Maryland. We’ll need healthcare records to be accessible across state lines to ensure that everyone is complying with the vaccine.
Regulations and oversight might shift.
The coronavirus has forced rules and regulations to shift rapidly. For example, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) changed reimbursement for telehealth services, and many insurance companies followed suit. The FDA has allowed many companies to develop vaccines, speeding up the ordinarily slow process. Experienced health professionals, such as nurse practitioners, were given more authority and autonomy because hospital staffs were stretched thin. While it’s impossible to predict what might happen as the pandemic continues to evolve, it’s reasonable to assume that we will likely continue to see a further loosening of the rules.
Whether you’re a nurse who lives in your nursing shoes or a worried patient trying to schedule your annual physical, the healthcare system touches all of us. Watch out for these seven potential trends as the healthcare industry copes with the evolving pandemic.