For the past year and a half, the world has been at war with an invisible enemy. Though there is still a lot that is uncertain, there are a few things that providers have learned that can help them navigate the road ahead.
Delivering a virtual keynote address at HIMSS 21 Digital, Michael Dowling, president and CEO of New York City-based Northwell Health, detailed some of the key learnings he has gleaned from the past 15 months or so.
Here are five of the lessons he shared:
The importance of agility
The emergence of Covid-19 necessitated quick action on the part of healthcare providers. Within mere days or weeks, health systems had to reconfigure their facilities to accommodate the droves of Covid-19 patients seeking care, redirect and retrain staff and work out a plan to care for non-Covid patients, Dowling said. Agility will remain essential as the pandemic moves into new phases, which means health systems must try to maintain the level of flexibility they have displayed so far.
The benefits of an integrated health system
Health systems that had multiple hospitals, ambulatory care sites and post-acute services were able to respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis, Dowling said. Northwell Health cared for more than 3,000 Covid patients daily last April when New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic, and Dowling believes that having multiple sites of care helped them survive.
“It [is] hard for me to imagine how a single, separate, distinct, individual hospital could have handled the crisis without the support of a large integrated system,” he said. “I know right now there are a lot of people criticizing [and asking] whether large systems work or not. Well, if you ever want to find proof…look at the Covid experience.”
The importance of taking care of your staff
Amid the overwhelming scale of the pandemic, health systems had to focus on protecting their most valuable resource: their staff. Keeping staff inspired was crucial to the Covid response, Dowling said. And health systems must not lose that commitment to their employees once the crisis has ended.
The urgent need for technology
The public health crisis has changed the healthcare industry’s relationship with technology forever, Dowling said. Technology helped health systems rapidly change how they delivered care, managed resources and maintained communications within and outside of their facilities.
“If we didn’t have technology [or] we weren’t able to use [it], we would not have been able to manage the crisis the way we did,” he said. “Our compact with technology is now very different. The question will be, as we go forward, how do we expand the use of technology to enhance access to care [and] the quality of care.”
The potential for entrepreneurship
As Covid-19 cases surged in the U.S., federal and state governments eased healthcare regulations to enable an effective response. Amid this loosening of restrictions, innovation and entrepreneurship thrived in the healthcare industry, Dowling said. For example, telehealth adoption and use were able to accelerate as quickly as they did because several federal and state rules were relaxed.
Policymakers now have an opportunity to examine regulations and modify them to allow for continued innovation, he said.
Though the pandemic is not over yet, the healthcare industry knows more now than it did in March 2020. As health systems operationalize the lessons learned so far, the landscape of the industry will likely change in big ways and small.
“In my view, this is a new beginning,” Dowling said. “We have now got to create a better future.”
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