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Surviving the crisis



Health care systems are experiencing unprecedented challenges globally because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a pivotal time in healthcare. There are simultaneous clinical and financial demands, alongside the need to make good a commitment to improving quality and safety. It has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. The normal work rhythm at most every healthcare facility had been disrupted.

Hospital leaders were already under pressure to contain labor costs while optimizing for patient well-being. Now they were starting to look at clinical care, operations and staffing levels from a new perspective.

Many hospitals had been rapidly making decisions. Pre-COVID 19, the order of the day was usually to get full consensus around an issue prior to making changes. During this crisis, it had been almost impossible to get everyone’s high five before an important decision because every issue had to be addressed with urgency. Every stakeholder moved much faster than before. It didn’t help that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and April, every news coverage carried features on hospitals nationwide postponing nonessential procedures and services to conserve resources for the care of COVID-19 patients in accordance with recommendations from both the Centers for Disease Control and our local Department of Health.

To respond to COVID-19 and ensure safety in the organization, there was little time to build uniform consensus. Moving in time with the rise of infection and death due to the virus meant effectively making changes in just days or weeks that would have normally taken months or more to accomplish!

But moving at that quick pace left holes and opportunities for improvement after changes — it was important not to be defensive and willing to evolve every day and listen to people to make things better.

Transparency and educating people about the reasoning behind a change is important, but it is also important to understand: we don’t have to be perfect.

Now, hospital leaders are starting to look at clinical care, operations and staffing levels from a new perspective.

We need to look at our doctors. Finding ways to strengthen physician-hospital alignment has never been more important. As the healthcare industry adapts to COVID-19 as part of its new normal, medical experts have a slate of patient experience lessons to take with them. We must refocus the relationship between administration and physicians and move toward closer collaboration. With growing competitive pressures like every other hospital that is crippled with monumental losses over a full quarter and beyond, we need to focus organizational strategy and address the fundamental talent barriers to achieving hospital-physician alignment. We, in healthcare, need to move towards more sustainable synergy to achieve the benefits of hospital-physician alignment on operations, finances and the patient experience.

The role of a hospital leader has changed on many levels. We don’t yet know exactly what the new normal will truly look like. COVID-19 has changed our society and healthcare. The next phase is going to require a whole different level of open-mindedness. We will have to be agile, honest and transparent. Flexibility is essential, and that’s not currently an inherent strength of the healthcare system.

This pandemic has taught us how to reach more people faster with targeted information and interactions. The webinars and social media channels have created additional content for this new and broader audiences. We expect it will be a larger element of every hospital’s marketing communications strategy for the foreseeable future as everyone adapts to how COVID has changed the ways we learn and collaborate in this new normal.

The message must be convincing, continuous and consistent with the patient experience: “We’re safe, so you’re safe.”

Trust in healthcare has never been more critical than it is today. COVID-19 has created a new world for the healthcare industry, a world in which masks and face coverings cover the smiles we once saw, virtual visits supersede in-person care and visitor precautions leave patients feeling isolated. While we’ve never lost sight of quality and safety — in many ways it has ramped up — we know that building trust right now means doubling down on showing kindness and compassion to each other and to patients when they need our expertise and guidance most.

This has been a tremendous test to the leadership mettle in crisis. For now, we, in healthcare, are going to have to look at it long and hard and ask if we stood up to this crisis. History will reflect back on what this industry could have done differently to manage this disease. I am hoping we can use this pandemic’s effect as the push to make changes, to create new, innovative healthcare delivery systems that allow us to care for more people. Better, safer and at a lower cost.