Our healthcare system has weathered significant changes and difficulties over the past 3-5 years. COVID-19 strained its capabilities and its workforce to the breaking point. Technological advances have introduced helpful new tools but have also created daunting new challenges.
Workforce shortages have been exacerbated by multiple large-scale trends that continue to threaten the healthcare system’s ability to keep up with demand. In the midst of all of this, it will take ingenuity and concerted efforts to help keep healthcare in good condition.
Here are some of the biggest ways we can improve our healthcare capabilities and increase the quality of the care it can deliver to all of its stakeholders.
Especially under the weight of the last decade, healthcare workers have had to shoulder huge amounts of strain. When humans experience severe or prolonged stress, they are susceptible to a number of effects that can become serious, long-lasting, or even irreversible if not appropriately treated. This can be particularly true of workplace stress.
These effects can include various mental health ailments like depression or anxiety. They can also manifest as a variety of physical conditions including fatigue, migraines, chronic pains, and more. Unfortunately, the healthcare system does not have a strong track record for adequately caring for the wellbeing and performance of its workforce. Burnout rates and stress-related ailments are very common amongst a wide variety of healthcare worker types.
Healthcare professionals perform highly demanding roles and are uniquely susceptible to strain-related conditions. This not only endangers them personally but decreases the quality of their care and performance.
For the healthcare system to operate well and to be able to sustain and improve the quality of the care it provides, healthcare worker wellbeing must be made a higher priority by its systems and institutions than it is right now. This can be achieved through a variety of interventions and initiatives.
These might include reevaluating compensation schemes, instituting more protections to govern the way healthcare workers are scheduled and how long they are allowed to work without breaks or within certain time spans, and taking extra precautions for staff that work in particularly stressful roles such as Emergency Room care or in on-call response capacities. It could also involve providing more mental health resources for healthcare professionals, whether provided on-site at healthcare facilities or via adequate insurance provisions or subsidies for seeking care outside the workplace.
Though efforts are slowly being made to change this, the United States healthcare system is still predominantly focused on treatment rather than preventative care. Because of this, many types of care or intervention can incur huge costs in the forms of money, time, and other resources that wouldn’t have cost nearly that amount if the condition had been treated earlier or, even better, avoided altogether through preventative strategies.
A range of institutions are working to change this reality. From insurance agencies that incentivize gym memberships and healthy living to community or public health initiatives that teach preventative measures and encourage proactive health maintenance techniques, many players are taking hands-on approaches and propelling substantive change in this area.
However, this process needs support and buy-in from more healthcare institutions and authorities to make it successful. Hospitals, private practices, and community health centers have plenty of room to shift their care provision and emphasize more preventative and proactive strategies.
This includes policy and treatment strategy changes as well as education and awareness initiatives to help the public better understand how they can prevent common diseases and health conditions through lifestyle choices and healthy living.
Thanks to the ubiquity of digital devices, it has never been easier to collect large amounts of data. This information can be utilized for a variety of purposes. With the advent and increasing sophistication of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and EHR systems, we are reaching unprecedented data collection and analysis abilities. These could be used to make more intelligent treatment and care decisions for individuals.
However, though the potential for substantive improvement in data-driven decision-making continues to expand, the distance between potential and reality remains large in many cases. Data systems and applications are often outdated, clunky, and ineffective. Intuition and traditional decision-making tactics still drive huge swaths of care choices.
If the healthcare system is to take advantage of huge technological capabilities and significantly improve the efficacy of healthcare decisions, it needs to implement and perfect data systems that can unlock them.
The potential for data-informed healthcare practice spreads across multiple areas. Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities make it possible to intuitively analyze huge amounts of data at once.
Various biotechnologies like personal sensors, trackers, and monitors can collect huge amounts of biological information more comprehensively and accurately than ever before. Internet of Things (IoT) applications are becoming increasingly utilized by the public in various ways and can capture additional pieces of information that can better inform decision-making. All these tools and more are becoming increasingly accessible and better integrated into health applications. They can provide medical professionals and health providers with the ability to make more informed treatment and care decisions for their patients.
As COVID-19 pushed countless parts of everyday human life online, the provision of healthcare services also had to be reimagined and adjusted to allow for virtual delivery when possible. This accelerated an already existent and slowly growing trend towards virtual healthcare services and offerings. As necessity proved many of these new innovations possible and expedited their implementation, the world quickly accepted virtual healthcare delivery as an acceptable and sometimes even preferred channel for many types of care provision.
From minor illness diagnoses to virtual health coaching, many people in the United States and around the world now interact with digital healthcare provision, and for some people this has become a routine part of their healthcare regimen.
Of course, not all digital healthcare services are created equal. There have been massive digital healthcare successes across the vast care provision landscape in recent years, but there have also been massive blunders. This is an area that is still being tested, researched, and trialed. In many ways, digital healthcare provision is still a frontier. It needs to be scrutinized and subjected to the same rigorous fact-finding we expect of other new developments within healthcare provision. For some applications, virtual healthcare can create advantages over traditional, in-person delivery.
An example of this can be providing routine check-ins with remote patients or those that don’t have ways to travel or commute to medical facilities. And as technology continues to be refined, especially in the areas of accurate at-home consumer testing tools and monitors, virtual healthcare can become more practical and possible for a wider set of needs. However, it’s important to be diligent about ensuring that patients who receive digital care rather than in-person treatment aren’t subjected to higher margins of error or risk.
As alluded to previously regarding preventative health practices, there is a huge amount of room available for entities within the healthcare system to build strong, effective partnerships with other organizations. For a vast endeavor like healthcare provision, creating more substantial partnerships with other organizations that provide similar, complimentary, or adjacent services can help streamline the patient’s experience, keep needs from falling through the cracks, and save huge amounts of resources all around.
This can happen in a number of ways. For hospitals, creating relationships with agencies and organizations in the local area that provide housing assistance, drug rehabilitation, foster care, social services, transportation, and more can help streamline the process of obtaining these services for patients and other stakeholders.
Outpatient clinics might create relationships with fitness centers, educational facilities, community healthcare providers, public health officials, and other types of outpatient entities to share referrals or post helpful information in their facilities for patients. Creating more relationships between healthcare provision entities can benefit those individual organizations and can also strongly benefit the clients and patrons that avail of healthcare services.
These strategies and more will help our healthcare system provide optimal healthcare for everyone that needs assistance and keep it running smoothly for decades to come.