With over 8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, over the last few months there has rightly been much focus from healthcare professionals (HCPs) and health stakeholders on the prevention, diagnosis and management of coronavirus. But in more recent weeks, HCPs around the world have been pondering the reality of life after the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically what the future may hold for the healthcare sector. We have seen many HCPs using social media as a platform to air their thoughts, ask questions and have discussions on this topic with their peers, like the poll in the following example from US based pulmonologist, David Furfaro.
The face of medicine will have to change forever after #COVID19. What is the biggest major change that will come out of this?@tony_breu @AmitGoyalMD @Dr_DanMD @DxRxEdu @AnnaPodolanczuk @JuliaProbert @thecurbsiders @BBroderickMD @sanjayvdesai
— David Furfaro (@david_furfaro) May 11, 2020
Is telemedicine here to stay?
In this particular poll, we see that respondents, predominantly HCPs, foresee the most major change in post COVID-19 health settings being the increased use of telehealth, or telemedicine. Telehealth is defined as the use of technology to enable remote health monitoring, a topic on which CREATION.co’s Jamie Doggett examined the views of healthcare professionals before the pandemic. This is a tool which has seen a sudden surge in its use within the health sector during COVID-19, with social contact having been hugely restricted around the world.
HCPs generally are actively encouraging, and predicting, the long-term presence of telemedicine in healthcare even after the end of the current pandemic. One of the main reasons for this positive reaction to its widespread implementation, HCPs say, is that the technology provides increased access to patient care and allows patients to feel more comfortable during consultations, as well as ensuring the safety of the healthcare professional providing the vital care.
My take: We simply cannot code our way out of the healthcare mess we are in. Digital tech simply cannot replace a functional public health system.https://t.co/6kRYrRJfVm
— Madhu Pai, MD, PhD (@paimadhu) May 10, 2020
Several caveats are offered by HCPs however with the probable long term use of telehealth services. Some HCPs insist that governments and health insurance companies must anticipate and plan for the increased demand for services, to ensure that access and reimbursement is possible when required. Others, including epidemiologist Madhu Pai, warn of over-optimism towards telemedicine in countries where the current healthcare systems are less than robust, suggesting illiteracy and poverty as potential barriers to telehealth uptake.
We used CREATION Pinpoint® to analyse the unprompted social media conversations of HCPs around the world. It is apparent that the HCP respondents to the aforementioned poll are aligned with many other HCPs on social media, who when discussing possible future changes to healthcare, most actively mention telemedicine as a part of this.
How will healthcare systems and settings change?
Another aspect of healthcare in which HCPs foresee changes is the role of primary care services. Some fear that the role of primary care will be overlooked in the treatment pathway after the COVID-19 pandemic, with patients going straight to hospitals to receive direct care as they may have during recent weeks. Other HCPs are concerned for opposite reasons, and predict a huge increase in take up of primary and alternative care which can continue to be offered in safe settings, as opposed to hospitals which patients may choose to stay away from for risk of contracting the virus.
General practitioners themselves have been voicing how they anticipate their roles may differ in the future, with many expecting a higher focus on academia and medical research to allow for more personal development and updated knowledge. Other GPs hope for increasingly cross-functional care teams, with stronger lines of communication between secondary care providers and the original primary care practitioner, which has been particularly important during COVID-19 when very ill patients may spend extended periods of time in critical care.
HCPs working in hospitals have also been looking ahead to post COVID-19 times with many saying that the pandemic has forced immediate change out of necessity, and along with it processes have been streamlined and demand more effectively managed. Lots of healthcare workers say now is the ideal time to implement these positive changes in the long term. Others have been imagining their ideal hospital designs, addressing issues which coronavirus has brought to the forefront.
Ideal ward design – each patient visible each patient has own en suite – lets get building post #Covid19 Hospitals @christiplady @chrisbiggin #NHS @WHO @TheIHI @TheKingsFund @nedwards_1 @DrLKVaughan @NHSHighland pic.twitter.com/rwtNfAfpsF
— Dr Gordon Caldwell (@doctorcaldwell) May 7, 2020
Will the healthcare industry be viewed differently after COVID-19?
While medical practicalities may change after coronavirus, it remains to be seen whether attitudes towards the medical industry itself will be affected in the long term. For example, recently in the UK, people all around the nation have been uniting at 8pm every Thursday during the pandemic to celebrate health workers and #clapforNHS. HCPs say they hope this level of respect for health workers continues long after COVID-19, and becomes the new normal in everyday life. Others link this to the wellbeing of physicians, and suggest that a new respect for HCPs may help to lower the prevalence of mental health struggles amongst doctors.
Alongside a revitalised respect for the healthcare industry, some HCPs also suggest that the pharmaceutical industry may be more highly regarded after COVID-19.
How healthcare changes post-COVID:
1) more virtual and home-based care; fewer “big-box” healthcare facilities;
2) healing professions, pharma/biotech restored to 1980s level respect / esteem;
3) anti-vax movement marginalized
4) social/behavioral health brought into focus.
— Sachin H. Jain, MD, MBA (@sacjai) April 13, 2020
In the above post reshared by 58 HCPs globally, Sachin Jain, trained internist and chief executive officer of the CareMore Health System, predicts a restoration of respect for Pharma comparable to that of the 1980s. HCPs also recognise and appreciate the collaborative efforts of pharmaceutical companies during this time, coming together to deliver the best outcomes for patients.
There is an opportunity for the healthcare industry now to build on the goodwill from HCPs and the public. This may be, for example, by collaborating on positive health messaging, supporting HCPs with educational resources around virtual meetings, or by demonstrating support for physician mental health. Exploring the online conversations of healthcare professionals enables you to keep up to date with emerging trends, and to inform your HCP customer communications. If you would like to understand how healthcare professionals are talking online in a particular area, then we’d love to help.