The global healthcare system has changed significantly over the past two years due to COVID-19 – from the advent of telehealth, to the strict implementation of infection prevention control measures, healthcare providers have had to quickly adapt and adopt new strategies to cope with the many challenges brought about by the pandemic.
While some of these strategies are temporary – such as hospitals delaying non-critical treatment in order to redirect resources towards the fight against COVID-19 – there are several developments in the healthcare sector that could last beyond the pandemic.
Dr Karen Luxford, CEO of ACHS International – a global healthcare improvement organisation – believes the most significant of these changes lies in the evolution of care models that healthcare providers employ.
“The transformation in the health sector has been quite significant in a number of different areas, but I think probably the biggest changes have been in the models of care,” said Dr Luxford.
“We have the emergence of virtual hospitals, hospitals-in-the-home, and in certain parts of Australia, hospitals with drive-thru pharmacies. And certainly the widespread use of telehealth, particularly in the primary care sector.”
Although it is encouraging that healthcare providers – many of whom are traditionally slow to embrace change – have adopted these new care models, it is equally important for them to be able to use these new technologies safely, while ensuring their quality of care continues to be at a requisite level.
To that end, ACHS International has developed new telehealth standards and accreditation, to help their member hospitals maintain the safety and quality of their care in the ‘new normal’.
“We need new…standards that can actually make sure that we retain that focus on the all-important areas of safety and quality,” explained Dr Luxford.
“So it’s critical that not only do you have the right sorts of infrastructure and technology in place, but that you also have the appropriate policies and procedures to support that care model. The overall approach (to safety and quality) is not that different; it’s just the method of delivery of that care is different.”
Adding that patient privacy is an especially crucial aspect to pay attention to when employing new models of care like telehealth, Dr Luxford elaborated: “It’s a little bit different than having a face to face interaction, as you do in traditional models of care delivery. That is why privacy and cybersecurity, are absolutely critical in that environment.”
One of the reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic has proven particularly challenging, as compared to other viral outbreaks such as SARS, H1N1, and Ebola, is how rapidly and constantly the virus evolves.
The Delta variant of the virus, in particular, has proven to be especially tough to manage, due to its increased infectivity.
The fluid and ever-changing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to amplify the need for healthcare providers to have the proper safety and quality measures in place.
Said Dr Luxford: “The groups that have managed to cope very well in this (COVID-19) situation are those that have the policies and processes well established and well-embedded.
“People know their roles, they know the process, and they know how to respond. This allows them to react and adapt to changes quickly.
“Internationally, we’ve seen that the groups who are accredited as health services and compliant with standards are the ones who have coped quite well. And we’ve heard from many of our hospital members that they’ve been able to share those learnings with other services so that they can respond quickly too.”
For now, though, healthcare providers should look towards preparing themselves for an endemic COVID-19, with multiple healthcare experts, including the United States’ infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, highlighting the very real possibility of having to live with the virus in the long-term.
It is a scenario which countries like the US, United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore are already preparing for.
And Dr Luxford foresees that even as COVID-19 transitions towards becoming endemic, the lessons learnt from the pandemic – especially with regard to infection control – will heavily influence how hospitals operate in future.
She said: “The approach to care and safety over many years has largely focused on chronic conditions, which is what we were seeing in many countries, and not so much on infectious diseases.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken us back to the fundamentals, and the key importance of infection control. It’s also really emphasised the necessity of good PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), as well as good procedures and processes around infection control. And certainly, all this will prevail with COVID-19 becoming endemic.”
To find out more about quality, patient safety and accreditation in our new world, join Dr Luxford and other esteemed speakers from the healthcare industry at HMA 2021 this September. Click here to register for the conference today!