Over 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare sector has learned valuable if, at times, difficult lessons about how to manage a major health crisis.
One of the phrases you may have heard bandied about during the upheaval of the past year and a half is the famous Winston Churchill quote: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And while on the surface this might sound a little mercenary, underneath lies the simple message of trying to encourage people to find some positives out of what has been a trying time.
The healthcare sector and its tireless workers have borne much of the brunt of the pandemic, meaning it is also the sector that might most heed Churchill’s wisdom and not let the COVID-19 crisis “go to waste”.
So, here are five things the healthcare sector can learn from the pandemic.
1. Healthcare workers have an incredible capacity for resilience but are also human
Those working in primary healthcare settings have been the frontline defence against allowing COVID-19 to ensure it does not become an even greater global health disaster than the 1918 Spanish flu.
Hospitals quickly flipped into COVID management wards, some filled to capacity or overflowing depending on each country’s specific response to managing the pandemic.
And yet healthcare workers met the challenge valiantly and proved even more how they are an essential pillar of a well-functioning society. Some even came out of retirement to help fill gaps in healthcare jobs or at least shore up around the edges until the pandemic is under control.
It’s been a tough time for many of them – we have all seen the emotional pleas on social media platforms from healthcare workers on the frontline urging people to be part of the solution in getting us through the pandemic.
So, while healthcare workers have taken their already high resilience to the next level, they have also shown the lengths to which they will go to protect the community and in doing so a deeply human side that won’t be forgotten, earning them even more respect than previously.
2. Telehealth should become another plank of the healthcare system
When the Federal government announced in March 2020 that telehealth GP and Specialist consultations would be added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, its intention was to add a safe way to conduct consultations during the pandemic.
Over the past decade, mental health has finally been getting some of the attention it deserves from both society and successive governments, but the pandemic has thrust it even more into the spotlight.
The pandemic has proved stressful with very few, if anyone, not affected by it in some way, leading to what some have called a “second pandemic” given the rise in mental health issues and presentations since the pandemic started.
And the stats do not lie – for example, in the four weeks to 25 April 2021, over 1.0 million services were processed, 18.1% and 17.8% higher than the 4 week periods to 26 April 2020 and 28 April 2019. The positive to come from this is the continued destigmatisation of mental health, with it being just as important as any other personal and community health outcome.
4. Hospitals are not the only place where care can be provided
While our public and private hospitals lie at the heart of our healthcare infrastructure, managing certain conditions from home is also an option.
From chronic medical conditions to aged care to rehab, there are a variety of patient health scenarios that can be undertaken at home, offering more flexibility for both patients and healthcare providers.
This also opens the door to an ongoing conversation about more creative and constructive in-home healthcare management in the future.
5. We must be better prepared for next time
No one would want to be in the shoes of those in government who have had to constantly run on quicksand during the pandemic, making decisions on the fly even as new challenges arise on a daily basis.
However, the big lesson for all levels of government is that our healthcare sector was in many ways unprepared this time around and that we must do better in the future. This means it is already time to learn from this pandemic and begin using the information we have to plan better for another.
Planning around this can be on a number of levels, but could include:
A focus on funding to research vaccines and treatments alongside building up the industrial capacity to produce vital medicines.
The better use of tech to improve the flow of data about the pandemic and that will also ensure the provision of general health services such as what we saw with telehealth and in-home care during the current pandemic.
Better integration of the public and private health systems so that during a future pandemic, not only could a major health crisis be handled more efficiently but so that other vital health services continue because the two systems work better together
Secondary health issues, such as mental health, being factored into the plan.
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