While the recent coronavirus pandemic has upended almost every industry, one can argue that healthcare has experienced the biggest jolt.   Possibly a “rude awakening” to the dire need for a culture change.

Healthcare was already facing pressure in 2019 with existing industry trends: increasing consolidation, price transparency, and demand for digital services. If a health system had not caught up by then, they certainly were forced to this year.  The pandemic has offered providers and payors no choice but to adapt to dramatically changed circumstances.

Healthcare Trends of 2019-2020

Some of the trends we are seeing this year and no doubt will continue to see:

  • Hospital employees of all levels have needed to feel rewarded and appreciated for the tremendous service they are providing. Being on the front lines of the pandemic and risking their lives daily, while the rest of the world has been on lockdown, is no small act of courage. In healthcare centers, hierarchies and typical top-down forms of leadership have needed to dissolve quickly. Nurses and assistants have required the same, or in some cases better, incentives and respect to doctors – since they have had more direct contact with infected patients.  Many health centers have failed to confer this respect, however. For example, some hospitals have offered better PPE to physicians compared to other staff, breeding resentment among the workforce and terrible PR.  Inadequately protecting employees undermines the sense of collaboration and safety in the workplace.  Furthermore, workers are distracted from focusing their efforts solely on patient care.

  • Efficient collaboration between departments and health systems has been essential to reduce patient risk and make real-time decisions.  Having ways to quickly share patient records across systems, monitor utilization centrally, and transfer patients has been essential to manage capacity and improve care. Arguably, it became clear that most health systems did not have the level of technology and processes they needed to make these quick decisions.  An example of where this failed was in New York City, the hardest hit city in the USA. Despite the city arranging for the overflow of infected patients by commissioning a navy hospital ship, we heard accounts of patients not being moved from nursing homes onto the ship in time. The reason?  Excessive red tape and unclear processes.  The result? Poorer outcomes, a huge waste in government spending, and patient death in some cases.  

  • Providers have needed to quickly transform their service delivery models to be able to offer remote video and phone visits. This has meant identifying the right technology to use and customizing it appropriately. Then, learning how to use it to create valuable patient experiences. Those providers who are not tech savvy have faced a greater hurdle during this time.  They have no doubt been at a disadvantage.

The moral of this story is: there is no going back now for the healthcare industry. The coronavirus pandemic has shaken it up at its core and demanded a new reality and way of working that will not be easily forgotten. Loosening organizational hierarchies, enabling seamless collaboration, and quickly adopting new technology – are all the name of the game when it comes to breeding a culture change in healthcare.  So, one could say that healthcare as an industry was forced to turn agile, whether it wanted to or not.

The pandemic of 2020 has had far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on organizational culture in healthcare, and will no doubt continue to have impact. It has been a lesson for all, but especially for the healthcare industry. The lesson has been not to get too comfortable with the status quo, to always be innovating and improving, and to, above all, put people first.