COVID-19 taught medical professionals and hospitals that they could manage a health crisis that affected the entire nation. To save lives, they persevered with new ways of working and adapted existing treatments to make them more efficient. There were also cautionary tales linked to supply chain issues, in particular, those that relied on networks that spanned several continents.
Hospitals also learned the importance of excellent communication between departments and allowing staff to adopt more flexible working practices. Frontline medical staff are incredibly resilient, and, now more than ever, the public and their employers are seeing their value. This has resulted in a focus on the well-being and mental health of employees, with hospitals creating spaces and services to enhance their experience at work. Finally, the teamwork that brought professionals together to care for patients with complex needs has not been forgotten.
The changes will make life easier for new medical colleagues
For students on placements and graduates who are just entering the profession, these enormous changes are likely to be a good thing. The way hospitals treat their staff and dispense care to patients has changed fundamentally in response to the pandemic. However, despite being forged in a stressful environment, these reforms will ultimately benefit the US healthcare system and its workforce.
The workforce is more flexible
In the aftermath of COVID-19, it was the nurses, physicians and care workers whom the public considered heroes. However, in the early stages, they were bound by rigid deployment models and schedules that limited their ability to help the sick. Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acted swiftly to evolve these dated ways of working and made it easier for hospitals to be more flexible when it comes to patient care. Most US states reacted by legalizing consultations across state lines, along with permitting physician’s assistants to work independently.
The scope of nurse practitioners was also widened considerably, allowing them to work with more autonomy and provide treatments that were previously carried out only by physicians.
These changes meant more patients could get the help they needed, but it also made the roles more attractive to graduates interested in training for a senior medical position. Even if you hold a degree in a discipline other than nursing, the steps to becoming a nurse practitioner are quite straightforward. At Elmhurst University, the accelerated nursing programs are taken online, though students also benefit from a clinical placement. Throughout the program, expert guidance and advice are provided by a success advisor, as well as a clinical placement specialist.
Opening the digital door
To smooth and hasten each patient’s journey, the healthcare system adopted a digital front-door strategy during the COVID-19 crisis. This streamlines the experience for users but also gives the providers of medical care a way of working more efficiently. They can offer patients constant access to appointments and use chatbots to manage simple queries that would otherwise require human interaction.
Furthermore, rather than bringing every patient into the hospital, new physicians and nurses will be able to perform a digital triage in the early stages. This will free up beds, but also allow them to concentrate their efforts on the patients who need to be in the hospital.
When patients are ready to leave, digital technology can also be used to simplify discharge procedures and organize outpatient care. Although this represents a massive shift from the traditional model of patients connecting with receptionists and physicians’ offices, the uptake has been huge. A 2021 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services found the utilization of digital services increased 63-fold as the pandemic continued.
Communication has become even more crucial
Students entering healthcare will find a greater emphasis placed on the importance of good communication. This refers to various sectors of the medical industry, including government agencies and providers, professionals talking to each other and professionals talking to patients and their families. The crisis highlighted how coordinating a response and communicating this to others can protect the service itself, but also the patients it helps. In particular, the issue of communication was felt keenly when fake news began to influence the public’s attitude toward healthcare and the virus.
To combat this, hospitals are more likely to examine and refine the communication practices they currently rely upon. As a result, they may have more interdepartmental meetings, encourage staff to collaborate over mobile devices and give employees the chance to express their opinions. The flexibility that healthcare workers have been given post-COVID-19 is valuable, but it means staying in touch can be a challenge. When field travel between facilities is combined with home visits and busy ward rounds, the team around a patient can become disjointed. That’s why paying attention to announcements and updates is considered a priority for all.
Refining the supply chain
From PPE to ventilators, COVID-19 caused an unprecedented need for specific medical equipment. However, the weaknesses in existing supply chains soon became evident, causing shortages that left hospitals looking for alternatives. In many cases, the global nature of supply chains and the massive shift in demand were the leading causes of shortfalls. Services tried to cut costs by buying in from abroad, but when the crisis hit, this was seen as a worrisome strategy. Thankfully, graduates are unlikely to experience these shortages when they begin work on a ward or in the community because hospitals have changed their practices considerably.
Now, healthcare facilities keep their wards stocked by buying from local producers, prioritizing continuity over costs and changing their relationship with suppliers. These measures and more have built resilience into health product supply chains, easing the pressure on staff who had to find methods of working around shortages.
The use of virtual medicine in emergency rooms
Virtual medicine was being explored by several medical facilities before COVID-19, but new doctors and nurses will find it to be a common tool now. Although ERs are traditionally considered places where patients need a physical exam, that is not always the case, and various services allow care and management to be provided remotely. Initially, patients can be screened using tele-triage, a process that establishes their condition and the kind of care they need.
Furthermore, providers working from a hub can connect with emergency patients in rural clinics to advise and guide the healthcare workers who are treating them. Once the initial emergency is over, virtual rounds can be carried out to check on a patient’s progress. This allows doctors to limit the number of people who end up in the hospital, as well as save time and money on their treatment. Graduates will find their specialty to be helpful in virtual medicine, too, as virtual consultations mean they can offer their expert advice to outpatients and their care workers. It’s a new way of working and will require some getting used to, for both patients and providers. However, in terms of future preparedness for emergency care, it’s an effective model that is likely to remain in place.
The importance of infection control
As an immediate response to the spread of COVID-19, healthcare providers across the United States employed a range of infection-control procedures. Although these were relaxed as the virus was brought under control, some of them have continued to have a positive influence, and, according to a 2021 report, could represent a learning opportunity. In particular, maintaining excellent hand hygiene and keeping patients in cohort groups have long been considered good practices, but they were not fully adopted. Today, new students are likely to encounter both types of infection control measures as they move through medical facilities.
The CDC has issued guidelines for medical facilities on hand hygiene that are designed to protect patients and staff from viruses and bacterial infections. Healthcare workers are expected to wash their hands immediately after coming into contact with a patient, after touching objects in the patient’s immediate environment and immediately after glove removal. This is in addition to cleansing the hands and using an antiseptic hand rub when the hands are visibly soiled. Furthermore, the CDC points out that, moving forward, wearing gloves should not be considered an alternative to good hand hygiene.
Separating patients into cohort groups based on their COVID-19 status was a common-sense practice during the pandemic, but many hospitals have been convinced to continue this isolation precaution. Graduates will find that set bays and wards are established for people with the same infection. This is most commonly done when a single room is unavailable or when multiple patients have the same infection. Bays are furnished with their own monitoring devices and supplies so staff working in the area do not need to visit other wards. These precautions and others give all levels of staff a way to do their bit and prevent the spread of infection.
Telemedicine brings the entire medical team together
In the wake of COVID-19, various types of digital technology were adopted more readily. The ways these systems could be used in hospitals were extended. Telemedicine has been around for a few years, but when the pandemic took hold, social distancing prevented face-to-face contact with patients, and digital alternatives flourished. Aside from speaking remotely with patients about their condition, doctors also maximized the potential of two other telemedicine applications.
Keeping a patient close with telemonitoring
Telemonitoring refers to the remote collection and transferral of data relating to a patient’s health. Once it reaches a nurse or physician, the information can be used to optimize the care of that patient. Moreover, it means the patient can remain in their home, whilst still enjoying the care of an entire medical team. Using a range of wearables, such as watches, alarms and monitors, data — including blood pressure and temperature — can be constantly collected. This is often supported by other forms of telemonitoring, such as fall detection, treatment adherence and environmental monitors. All of that can keep a patient safe in the short term and improve their long-term treatment.
Sharing information with store-and-forward
Store-and-forward is another form of telemedicine that involves collecting data of a clinical nature and sending it off to be evaluated. Students and graduates could find this helpful in many ways. They might send an image of a broken bone or wound to a more senior colleague for advice, or they might add images to a portal so outpatients can visit their personal physician for further treatment. However, store-and-forward also includes medical notes and reports. These allow second opinions to be obtained swiftly and mean the entire care team can collaborate, even if they happen to be in different locations. As a result, waiting times have been reduced, and appointment systems are under less pressure. Moreover, important appointments can be made available for patients who need an in-person consultation.
Staff mental health is prioritized in inventive ways
COVID-19 has been a tough time for everyone, but frontline medical staff were tasked with facing the pandemic day in and day out. As a result, hospitals found that it was crucial to provide a range of supportive services for their hardworking teams. These were aimed at promoting good mental health, as well as physical health. It’s not just about caring for employees, however. When nurses and physicians are well and happy, they are functioning at their best professionally, and this benefits their patients.
There are several ways in which incoming graduates will benefit from this trend. As well as providing better childcare options for their staff, hospitals have also launched a series of staff wellness programs and made health apps available to their teams. Visiting students will also see that many facilities have changed the design of their buildings to make them more user-friendly. In some cases, the changes are quite simple and involve a new coat of paint, more attractive flooring and open spaces that create a calming mood. Other facilities have gone further by installing comfortable areas with natural lighting and private spaces where healthcare workers can relax away from the public.