The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the healthcare system in the United States and across the globe in general beyond its limits. This led to the exposure of some critical areas of healthcare that can do with some improvement. Even before the pandemic, there has been an increasing concern about the quality of healthcare due to increasing costs and the increased number of insured patients. There’s also been more aware of medical errors.
Some redesigns are needed in the healthcare system if it is to meet patient needs and improve safety and outcomes. These redesigns should be treated as a whole and not as individual problems since the efficiency of the healthcare system is a sum of the individual components. Below are key areas that can be considered critical priorities for the healthcare system:
1. Increased Focus on Improving Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 in 10 adults in the United States have a chronic condition (diabetes, obesity, heart disease), and 4 in 10 adults have two or more. While these numbers show that there is a need to focus on improving health, the COVID-19 pandemic makes it a critical priority for the healthcare system as it exploits underlying medical conditions. People with one or more chronic conditions are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.
It is generally accepted there could be another pandemic. And since pandemics are random events, it’s hard to predict when the next one will happen. Chronic diseases are already responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in the US, and the numbers only get worse with a pandemic, as the Coronavirus showed.
While improving health is largely a personal choice, healthcare providers have a part to play. Doctors can advise patients, offer home health visits, or refer patients to mental health services. A focus on preventive care can lead to a reduction in chronic conditions and allow health professionals to focus on high-risk patients.
2. Increased Use of Professional Medical Interpreters
English may be the predominant language in the US, but there are between 350 and 430 languages spoken in the country. This is due to the number of people traveling to the country as well as the ex-pats living there. The implication of this is that a doctor can attend to 10 different patients that do not speak well or at all. Yet, everybody has a right to proper healthcare. More often than not, hospitals rely on family members and bilingual staff for interpretation.
For effective communication between patients and doctors and quality healthcare overall, the services of professional medical interpreters become indispensable. These professionals do more than just initiate the conversation between doctors and patients. They also offer medical records translation services that can help doctors understand patients’ medical history.
3. Expansion of Telehealth and In-Home Hospital Services
The traditional mode of operation of the healthcare system is such that the patients go to health professionals for help. But another mode of operation, telemedicine, is becoming popular. Telemedicine, which involves phone or video appointments between patients and doctors, became popular during the pandemic as it meant fewer visits to the hospital and reduced the spread of the virus.
But telemedicine also has several advantages for patients, which include increased comfort and convenience and better assessments in some situations. While lockdown and the several restrictions that were put in place during the height of the pandemic have been lifted, it’s time to utilize the full potential of telemedicine and in-home hospital services.
Issues such as security, lack of knowledge of the type of care that can be provided virtually, and workflow integration must be resolved to increase the adoption of telehealth. Healthcare areas with personnel shortages can benefit a lot from virtual care as patients have increased access to available personnel, which can improve health outcomes.
4. Addressing Racial Disparities
Racial discrimination has long been an obstacle to health equity in many countries, including the US. The implication of this is an increased risk of illness or lower standards of care for the minority races. The pandemic also highlighted the racial disparities in the healthcare system as black, Hispanic, and Asian people had higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death compared to white people.
Ways to reduce racial disparities in the healthcare system include raising public and provider awareness of racial/ethnic disparities in care, increasing the numbers and capacity of health professionals in underserved areas, expanding healthcare insurance coverage, and increasing the knowledge base on both the causes and interventions of disparities.
Equity should be a core value of any healthcare system, and there must be ongoing efforts to ensure everyone has fair access to quality healthcare.