By Sarah Daren
The COVID-19 pandemic affected virtually every industry on the planet in some way or another. There were a select few that actually evolved due to the pandemic, such as internet communications and delivery services, but most industries were negatively affected, with healthcare being at the top of that list. Admissions to hospitals and other sites of care for COVID-related issues caused staffing troubles and, especially in larger cities, inpatient care services were cut and even completely unavailable when hospital beds were needed to treat victims of the virus.
As the proverbial smoke clears, and the pandemic finally is coming to an end, hospitals are now moving back to some semblance of their pre-COVID existence, using some lessons learned to help improve patient safety, and ultimately quality of care for both inpatient and outpatient services. This article will look at three ways that inpatient care is improving in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inpatient vs Outpatient
Generally, any care conducted in person by a health professional falls into one of two categories: inpatient care or outpatient care. Both existed relative to COVID-19, as inpatient care is any care that involves an extended stay (at least overnight, by most definitions) and outpatient care is for individuals who go to a site of care and go home the same day. Sometimes patients will go to a hospital expecting outpatient care, but then get “admitted,” meaning they are now inpatients.
Electronic Medical Record Evolution
Electronic medical records (EMRs) are not a brand new entity, but one thing that COVID was a catalyst for was advancements in telehealth, and the existence of EMRs allowed for “shuffling” of patients to providers whose locales were less-affected by the pandemic. In other words, remote healthcare allows for even the most secluded patients to receive top-notch advice from anyone on the globe. Certainly, there are eventually going to be procedures that will require in-person care, but the money and resources saved by utilizing telehealth can reduce travel expenses, as well as overall costs of the procedure, as hospitals also save time and money by utilizing telehealth.
Telehealth would not be possible without EMRs, especially in the “shuffling” patients sense, and they are becoming more secure and easier to safely share while maintaining patient privacy and confidentially (need-to-know), ultimately saving patients time and travel expenses, two of the most frequent complaints regarding patient experience.
Equity and Diversity
Just like EMRs, disproportionate care for lower-income communities (which, in America, are often non-white, due to systemic racism) is nothing new, but was glaring during the COVID pandemic, and initiatives to address facts like these (a very small sample) aim to make the healthcare experience for the lowest-income patients the same as those for the highest-paid patients:
· African-American mothers were four times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts between 2010 and 2020
· Native Americans were 5.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID than European-Americans (i.e. Caucasians)
· Black and Latino Americans were 4.7 times more likely to contract COVID than European-Americans
· Racial discrimination has been proven to cause early aging, causing viruses like COVID to be more deadly for non-Caucasian Americans
Reversing issues such as these begins with education, and hospitals are making concerted efforts to train their staffs on implicit bias and other factors that lead to these issues. A more understood and diverse staff means a more understood and comfortable patient base, and equity and diversity training improves quality of life for both patients and hospital staff.
Technology advances were mentioned briefly relative to telehealth in the first section, but other advancements in technology are allowing for improvements for the patient experience. Healthcare is well-funded from both private and public entities, and for good reason as any advancements in the field equate to lives saved. One heavy emphasis on tech in healthcare is on machine learning, a part of artificial intelligence that allows for things such as robot-assisted-surgeries and ultrasounds to be more precise, as the machines actually “learn” from their experiences and use that knowledge for future procedures.
Ultimately, patient experience begins with an elevated sense of concern, and after the high-stress situations brought on by the pandemic, that can be the biggest challenge for hospital workers. The heroes of the pandemic deserve a little slack as the world transitions back to the “old normal,” but ultimately these trends will help them do so.
Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.