The world’s healthcare industry has arguably experienced one of its most tumultuous periods in history over the last two years. In addition to large-scale shifts that had already begun to roil within healthcare by the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed its capacity for widespread emergency and policy response to the limit.
Recent happenings and the looming uncertainties that will carry us into the new year have revealed both the healthcare industry’s dogged capacity and its significant deficiencies. The healthcare industry faces significant challenges in both the current climate and as it looks forward into the future of healthcare support and service delivery.
Current Gaps in Healthcare Service Provision
A few areas within healthcare service stand out as places of particular need and urgency.
In light of the current climate, pandemic response and public health policy is an area of primary concern for healthcare providers and governance as they work through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as implement learnings that can help lessen the impact of widespread viral outbreaks in the future.
From the state of hospitals and healthcare provision to new operational norms in business, education, travel, and more, COVID’s impact has caused fundamental changes to many spheres of life. The healthcare industry is working to apply the lessons learned as a result of the pandemic to everything from protocols in healthcare provision settings to communication practice amongst healthcare professionals, increased protective measures for all stakeholders, public health awareness and policy, and more.
Staff shortages and burnout currently plague the healthcare industry, dramatically straining available staff and inhibiting the quality of healthcare provision. COVID imposed huge demands on healthcare workers of almost every variety starting in early 2020, and many workloads have remained unsustainably heightened for almost two straight years. Vaccine requirements that have resulted in mass layoffs or resignations in many healthcare systems compound staff shortages and make this an urgent priority for the healthcare industry.
Also, better care services for underserved populations is also a forefront objective for today’s healthcare industry. Fueled by greater societal awareness and public pressure over the past 3-5 years, the healthcare system is working to repair and reverse existing discrepancies and inequities that disproportionately hinder some members of society from receiving adequate healthcare.
Statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in June 2021 show that across a range of minority groups including African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians and Alaska Natives, rates of COVID contraction, hospitalization, and death significantly surpassed those of white populations. And this trend runs much deeper than COVID. For these minority groups, as well as others including persons who are unhoused, have disabilities, or are not proficient English speakers, healthcare support is far more difficult to obtain and health conditions or problems that should be preventable or treatable are more devastating. These realities are being identified and addressed in some areas of healthcare, but much more needs to be done to eliminate the disparity in healthcare provision amongst minority groups.
Looking Forward: Where the Healthcare Industry is Heading
Though these issues are significant and systemic, the healthcare industry is being propelled forward by strategic initiatives to address them.
Moving the healthcare industry (and the world) past the pandemic will take awareness, innovative solutions, and systemic changes. It will not be easy. However, care is already being taken to educate both healthcare industry members as well as those in other sectors on the best ways to operate in a post-COVID world. Creating proactive health policies and procedures to keep people safe, maintain good working conditions, and mitigate the risk of future widespread health concerns could help keep another pandemic similar to the breadth and duration of COVID-19 at bay.
Part of advancing the healthcare industry and enabling it to improve support and services in the coming decade will require effectively utilizing technology. Technology’s use within the healthcare industry has blossomed in recent years. COVID’s effects accelerated those developments, necessitating broader applications of telehealth and virtual healthcare provision. Everything from patient check-ups, consultations, and some forms of testing have been adapted to be offerable online and via remote channels rather than requiring a patient to visit a healthcare facility.
Other areas where technology is being rapidly mobilized and applied to healthcare provision include robotic technologies that can assist with surgeries; artificial intelligence (AI) softwares that provide diagnostic and screening analysis; robust patient data platforms that reduce the risk of incorrect treatment and mistakes; machines that can automatically medications and treatment automatically; and more. As technology continues to advance and its utilization increases throughout the healthcare industry, it will increase care quality and precision while lessening the workload for overburdened healthcare personnel.
Though current conditions are challenging and will require concerted efforts to navigate, the healthcare industry has the necessary tools in the forms of not only advances in technology but a diverse and seasoned workforce to weather the current climate and bring forth the next era of healthcare provision.