Transforming healthcare in a COVID-19 world

COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. We’re learning how to navigate a new abnormal and live with COVID-19, ensuring we can respond to the next crisis that comes our way.

In my view, we are in Act II of a three-part play. We’ve moved past the immediate threat into an uneasy equilibrium. We need to re-start life while managing an untreatable contagion.

Before COVID-19, the US healthcare system was teetering. This crisis is an opportunity to transform the future. 

Providence is a mission-driven organization focused on innovation and compassion. We make high quality care accessible for all while creating new solutions with technology. Started by the Sisters of Providence and Sisters of St. Joseph, this image from 1918 reminds me how we’ve learned, evolved, and solved through past crises.  

Since treating our first COVID-19 patient, we’ve learned many lessons on how to triage, test, and treat others using technology and tools. We continue to adapt our healthcare system to find strategies and solutions for responding to COVID-19. Our teams are listening and learning globally while acting and implementing hyper-locally.

We know trust is continually earned. Our vision is a patient-centric model that creates accessible “health and care” personalized to the needs of each individual. In the world of COVID-19, there are 3 key principles guiding our path forward. 

Safety is first priority for healthcare systems and businesses

COVID-19 shifted the way we consider safety in our environments. It’s our job as health systems to create safe places to give and get care.

As state and local governments re-open in phases, we’ll see spikes in COVID-19 cases. Hospitals must be prepared to handle a second surge. No matter the industry or business, we can’t ignore the fact that consumers fear their safety.

CDC, WHO and OSHA have issued guidelines for how businesses can keep employees safe. The public is also looking to the medical community for guidance and examples of safe practices during COVID-19.

Providence’s practices to keep patients and caregivers safe include:

  1. Communication protocols for safety throughout hospital systems to ensure that stakeholders and caregivers at all levels of the organization abide by these standards.
  2. Telehealth is the default mode of care where possible.
  3. Disinfecting waiting rooms and all surfaces throughout the day. Disinfecting exam rooms after each patient.
  4. Conducting triage outside of the facility for patients who are experiencing symptoms that indicate a potential COVID-19 infection.
  5. All patients, visitors, and hospital staff must wear masks and practice good hand hygiene.
  6. Maintaining records of staff-patient contact for tracing capabilities.
  7. Screening all staff daily for COVID-19 related symptoms. 

The future of virtual care after COVID-19

COVID-19 resulted in industry-wide disruptions, forcing rapid and unprecedented changes. Telehealth and virtual care experienced substantial growth. It’s imperative they continue to grow and evolve into a standard of care delivery.

We saw 300,000 telehealth visits in April alone. Working at scale over 7 states, Providence enabled and trained around 10,000 physicians to use telehealth for routine visits. We’re helping under-resourced geographic areas by using TeleHospitalist and TeleICU to monitor patients, support onsite nurses, and supplement where local physician staffing cannot cover the surge in care.

Telehealth is a more convenient and safe way for patients to receive care. The volume of virtual care visits is expected to top 1 billion just in 2020.

As we look to the future, this is a great example of an integrated experience with virtual and in-person care.

We must ensure regulations that allowed such transformations, including cross-state recognition of medical licensure and payment parity, continue.   

Value-based care, including capitated primary care for all  

Of those dying from COVID-19, a disproportionate number are minority and low-income patients. These individuals often work in the service industry and are essential workers who must be on site while white collar workers telecommute. They may be uninsured or underinsured and experience higher burdens of chronic disease. They often cannot afford preventive care.

We’ve seen the majority of Medicare contracts with hospitals transition into value-based contracts. Value-based, capitated, and other alternate payment models are designed to be patient-centric, focusing on integrated care delivery to improve quality and cost of care.

With a subscription-based model of care, a per-patient fee each month covers all the patient’s primary care provided by a known and trusted clinician. Care can be given through in-person or virtual care. Countries using this value-based approach to care experience significantly lower costs. Preventive care, i.e. vaccines and cancer screening, is enhanced. Patients can better manage chronic conditions like hypertension, depression, or diabetes.

Over 100,000 American lives have been lost to COVID-19. This is a wake-up call that our healthcare infrastructure is not where it needs to be. As a country, we’re only as strong as the health of our people. Let’s take the lessons learned in this crisis and make them count. If we do things right—if we make safety job one, focus on virtual care as the default way to help people in need, and pay for value, not volume—we have the capacity to transform healthcare for good.   

*Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels


About the Author

Amy Compton-Phillips, M.D., is an internationally respected healthcare executive, innovator, speaker and author serving as President and Chief Clinical Officer for Providence. She is responsible for improving health, care and value outcomes delivered by the 52 hospitals, 1000+ clinics, and 120,000 caregivers of the $25 billion health system.

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