‘The new system’: How will healthcare organizations navigate COVID-19 and beyond?

With our healthcare system under pressure, Elsevier’s Patient Safety and Innovation Manager writes about ways to ensure high quality care and safety

By Laís Junqueira - July 15, 2020
Elsevier health management illustration

Throughout the world, different regions are at varying phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some countries are starting to see confirmed cases and deaths fall, others, such as Brazil – which  has nearly 1.9 million confirmed cases – are just reaching their peak, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 World Map.

Regardless of their phase, healthcare organizations must begin to anticipate and plan for the subsequent stages of their response strategy.

Recent developments have resulted in the easing of isolation restrictions throughout Europe and the United States. Therefore, healthcare organizations need to prepare for, and manage, the more long-term consequences of the global pandemic. Coronavirus disruption has created a backlog of cancer treatments, surgeries, consultations and referrals. More than 2 million people are currently awaiting cancer treatment due a scale back of services since March, according to Cancer Research UK.

Research conducted in May by the CovidSurg Collaborative used predictive modeling to estimate that approximately 72.3 percent of planned surgeries will be cancelled globally through the peak period of COVID-19. Between March 11 and April 21, 2020, 42 percent fewer patients were admitted to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) inpatient facilities in the US compared with the preceding 6 weeks, including for conditions generally requiring emergency treatment, despite their continuation of service, per an analysis in JAMA.

Therefore, when normal practice resumes, workloads will not be eased, and in many departments, they will increase dramatically. To alleviate this pressure, healthcare systems will need to evolve in order to provide a way forward, not just a way through, as the predictability of future outbreaks is near impossible to quantify at the moment.

Standardization of patient care

Healthcare operates on the premise of high quality of care and patient safety regardless of the circumstances. Even before COVID-19, we were experiencing challenging times in healthcare provision. For instance, the impacts associated with an aging population and an increased prevalence of non-communicable diseases account for 41 million deaths each year, or 71 percent of all deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization. Therefore, it remains vital that knowledge-driven care is standardized and aligned across healthcare organizations in order to improve patient outcomes and alleviate pressures on healthcare systems before, during and after the current pandemic.

The pandemic has put pressure on healthcare organizations and highlighted the importance of two key elements of robust safe systems:

  • The ability to implement processes that drive safety
  • The enablement of safe decision making through a robust structure driven by knowledge

The result of this combination is a reduction of unwarranted variation that could lead to patient harm.

Empowering knowledge with technology

Amid the global pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the adoption of digital technologies, which have proved critical in supporting us in the fight against COVID-19. In times of crisis, the robustness and preparedness of a healthcare system is tested. The use of relevant evidence-based information through solutions that adopt technology to prevent errors is key to fostering safe systems.

Additionally, COVID fatigue is taking an enormous toll on healthcare workers, and as the pandemic has progressed, clinicians and healthcare professionals (HCPs) have had to navigate numerous policy changes, diagnostic discrepancies and treatment developments, which have been hard to manage. The interoperability of these new systems enables HCPs to stay up to date with the latest scientific information alongside improving the efficiency of clinicians’ workflows, documenting patient records and providing access to standardized order sets and decision support solutions. These resources have been translated and adopted globally, enabling clinicians to make the best use of their time and resources to alleviate pressure on HCPs.

Patient education in a world of fake news

During times of uncertainty, misinformation is widespread and such content can have devastating consequences. Past outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika virus, have shown that “fake news” often gains more traction than accurate information, and it appears COVID-19 has followed this trend. Media coverage throughout this pandemic has been littered with inaccurate health tips and constant speculation around government plans. Past research has highlighted that many people are concerned about their ability to separate what’s real and what’s fake online. A 2019 Digital News Report by Reuters Institute outlined that a staggering 85 percent respondents from Brazil, 70 percent from the UK and 67 percent from the US said they were worried about online misinformation. Therefore, it is vital we encourage greater awareness of trusted news sources and highlight the importance of relevant and accurate scientific information in a time of crisis.

While health literacy remains a challenge for the majority of patient populations, there is an increasing number of resources available to support breaking barriers of communication with patients, such as patient-centered evidence-based information leaflets. These educational resources are a vital tool to equalize the communication between patients and HCPs. Informative content must be delivered in a format that allows patients to revisit what they have learned to further highlight the risks, side effects and benefits of treatments. With education being key to chronic disease management, this could help reduce the number of re-admissions and sustain the delivery of quality patient care.

A platform for change

More than ever, this pandemic has highlighted that data, information and actionable content can save lives. Transformation of care facilities, such as the UK’s Nightingale Hospitals, have highlighted the importance of accessible EHR systems at every point of care. New alert networks and methods have been put in place to classify COVID-19 patients and support doctors and nurses in the decision-making process. To help shape the future of healthcare and elevate the efficiency and productivity of healthcare systems, we should consider the sustainable implementation of such resources that deliver a better experience for patients and HCPs.

The key to delivering high quality patient care is to look at all the elements of quality of care and patient safety holistically, as opposed to focusing on individual parts. This will allow healthcare organizations to deliver that safe, high-quality care and patient safety with a well-rounded care package in and beyond a pandemic. This approach reinforces the value of standardization of care and resources globally as we navigate the reality of COVID-19 – a valuable lesson for the industry going forward.

A version of this article originally appeared in HETT: Healthcare Excellence Through Technology.

Related resources

Elsevier’s COVID-19 Healthcare Hub provides support to the medical community during this crisis and beyond. Free-to-access toolkits include evidence-based clinical overviews, drug monographs, care plans, order sets, procedure videos and patient information leaflets. These resources have been used by clinicians and HCPs globally to sustain the delivery of quality care and patient safety and support clinical decision making.

Elsevier’s Clinical Best Practice Council has developed a COVID-19 On-Demand Webinar Series which has been accessed by HCPs and used as a strategic and practical support tool that outlines how to leverage our knowledge resources and deliver COVID-19 evidence-based care from a crisis through to a routine model of care delivery.


Written by

Laís Junqueira

Written by

Laís Junqueira

Laís Junqueira is Quality, Patient Safety and Innovation Manager and a member of the Clinical Best Practice Council at Elsevier.

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