COVID-19 forced healthcare to adapt. While telehealth came to the forefront and solidified itself at the forefront of medical care, healthcare professionals had to take control and mold at-distance care. With vaccinations rolling out and America seemingly regaining its footing, what are healthcare leaders facing? How do we prepare for the adaptations that telehealth will manifest next? And who will lead the evolution of healthcare in 2021?
Evolution of Healthcare in 2021: Capitalizing on Telehealth
Before realizing how telehealth would assert itself in the status quo, professionals at Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut provided an example of how health care leaders had to adapt.
The five-hospital health system is located in the northeast, which was one of the earliest regions of the U.S. to be hit by COVID. As one of the first health systems in the nation being forced to adapt, New Haven Health leaders were forced to evolve due to limited PPE, safety concerns, and, as simple as it may sound, space. Many of New Haven Health’s ICUs reached maximum capacity.
Through a quick understanding of the virtual space, Dr. L. Scott Sussman and his partners were able to transfer New Haven Health’s physical layout. "In conjunction with the rapid construction of a new tele-ICU bunker to accommodate additional clinical support staff, the integrated team designed and built the capacity to monitor more than 200 simultaneous locations directly through our EHR," said Sussman.
Sussman’s team is an example of leadership for the entire health-care field. To meet the needs of patients, protect caretakers and react to a spiking pandemic, the health system embraced possibilities and change. Collective leadership provided the backbone to the health center’s response.
Of course, as Bill Siwicki notes in his analysis of Sussman’s leadership, the Yale health center was fortunate to have strong financial support to take advantage of telehealth technologies. Unfortunately, a lack of similar funding could prevent other health centers, and patients, from reaching the same potentials.
So, despite understanding how quickly and efficiently telehealth can bolster a program, we can also see possible challenges behind accessing the necessary resources.
Achieving Wide-Spread Access—with a Text
In a previous HPN Blog Post, we took a look at the telehealth landscape and what is required of the telehealth infrastructure, especially with regards to the end users—patients. On a smaller user-to-user scale, the entry-fee to digital access can be steep, sometimes significantly so.
Financially, getting a computer and consistent access to a stable internet connection can be an immense challenge. Then, even with all of the technology needed, technical-literacy can be a barrier that sections off those without technical experience, particularly the elderly community.
Some healthcare providers have found that one of the best ways through the technological divide is with a text. Josh Weiner mentions in an article that “Upwards of 80 percent of American adults own a smartphone and about 96 percent use it to text message.” As it would seem, those pesky smartphones have become a crucial part of the vaccination process, and they could be integral to the future of telehealth.
While able to send text messages, smartphones can also bridge the gap into more advanced forms of communication. Such as email, video chat, and multi-person video meeting rooms. With training, a non-tech-literate user can reach the point where they can join HIPPA-compliant meetings with their caretakers and family members while at a distance.
This can be a monumental step forward even when social distancing guidelines are relaxed. The smartphone bridge can help raise technical literacy, but it is still up to health care professionals to organize communication forums and adapt their practices.
Ideally, when the American landscape returns to a point where we can interact without social distancing, preparing those who struggle with technical-literacy will be even easier.
Telehealth Leadership is an Opportunity for Health Professionals
The value of ad-distance care has proven to go further than just benefiting patients. According to Sussman, “The technology helped mitigate burnout, since clinicians were able to care for patients across greater geographies without needing to travel, and allowed more clinicians to participate in care than would have otherwise been able to."
At-distance care and education are proving to strengthen the healthcare industry at the source. By decreasing symptoms of burnout, telehealth can support the health of those providing the care and exponentially increase the amount of care that facilities can provide.
Whether it be through in-person workshops, or by easy-to-access online training programs, health professions and even professional associations can help prepare patients for virtual care. This is a prime example of an issue leaders in healthcare and health professions will be able to take on.
That leadership will also require advocacy—from professions, professionals and health systems—as on a larger scale, issues of jurisdiction and legality have already begun to complicate the telehealth process.
Challenges for Healthcare Leaders in Telehealth
As described by Matt Volz in this article on state-to-state telehealth relationships, there are growing concerns around telehealth logistics. States have begun to express concern about state healthcare providers being overshadowed by nation-wide companies.
Furthermore, in an article by Kat Jercich in Healthcare IT News, Heather Alleva notes: "if you have a physician who is only licensed in Illinois, and they provide unlicensed care to a patient in Indiana via telehealth, [a patient] could sue both the physician and the physician's employer for providing unlicensed care."
There is only so much a healthcare provider can do in the face of legal restrictions. But this presents an idea of the evolution and adaptation that has yet to come. As the federal government crafts the future of telehealth law, it will be crucial for healthcare leaders to shape that change.
While these challenges, which seem systematic in scale, may feel intimidating, the potentials of an efficient telehealth network speak for themselves. With the right leadership, these potentials can become our reality.
Leadership for the Evolution of Healthcare in 2021:
HPN's Virtual Spring Conference April 20-23
With telehealth pushed to the mainstream and upcoming hurdles becoming clear, leadership in healthcare is needed—and professional associations can provide that leadership. The healthcare field needs guidance as it molds itself into the future, and associations are the natural platform for health professionals to develop as leaders and bridge the gap between practice and policy.
The Health Professions Network's Virtual Spring Conference will be an outstanding opportunity for association and practice leaders to learn and connect across professions—in fact, we think you should invite your volunteer and practice leadership, especially to participate in our opening keynote session on April 20.
Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future—a world-renowned speaker on adaptive leadership for the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in—will speak to the qualities healthcare leaders need to foster in order to meet and shape that future.
All week long, we'll be sharing and discussing sessions with big ideas—from professional education to credentialing, or from moral injury to restorative leadership.
The conference will provide an opportunity for attendees to engage with and collaborate on those big ideas with fellow colleagues and members across professions—together, we can better prepare for the evolution of healthcare in 2021.
For our conference, individuals and organizations can pay what they think is fair based on planned participation to attend the four-day virtual conference. Each day will have two hours of phenomenal speakers, sessions, collaborative discussions, and networking events with HPN leaders, members, and fellow attendees.