Healthcare After the Pandemic: The New Normal

Against the ongoing updates and reporting on new developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are wondering what a post-pandemic world will look like. When will the pandemic end? When will we be safe? When can things go back to normal? And at the root of it all, the real question: what will be the new “normal?” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our previous routines and procedures so drastically that reversion to old norms may not be possible. Around the world, many suggest that things will never be the same after quarantine, providing persuasive reasoning to support their claims.

New Outlook on Racial Disparities

Across the country, disproportionate death rates due to COVID-19 have been observed in minority groups. In Chicago, where African American’s make up 30% of the city’s population, 72% of COVID-19 related deaths have been African American. Michigan has reported similar numbers, with 33% of COVID-19 cases and 41% of COVID-19 related deaths observed in the Black community, which represents about 14% of the population. Similarly, disproportionate infection/death rates have been seen within Latinx and Native American communities across the nation. 

Don Berwick, former administrator to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Obama administration, recently stated that these vulnerabilities are already well-known to researchers and students of equality and justice in healthcare, but that “COVID-19 has kind of underlined it, made it more visible.”

The racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths lay bare the need for greater attention to a patient’s social determinants of health (SDoH). The root cause of the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 related cases and deaths within minority groups is that racial minority groups often experience obstacles to accessing all the SDoH, obstacles that include food insecurity, housing insecurity, and more, which collectively make these groups more vulnerable to the pandemic. 

Any new “normal” that seeks to close these systemic gaps and guard against future vulnerability in challenging situations like these must demand a greater focus on remedying obstacles to SDoH and focusing on whole-person care (WPC). 

Faster Growth in Telemedicine 

Two of the most recommended and ubiquitous practices in COVID-19 prevention are social distancing and self-quarantine, which greatly disrupt everyday life. Across the country and around the world, people adapt to these changes in ways like increased reliance on food delivery services and shifting to remote work where possible. Not surprisingly, demand for digital accommodations in healthcare has increased as well. In response to a continual need for non-emergency doctor visits in the midst of quarantine and virus prevention procedures, digital health services have seen substantial growth. 

However, this demand is unlikely to disappear after the pandemic is over. After being forced by circumstance to change habits, consumers have experienced greater efficiency and ease of access to healthcare from the comfort of their homes, and will likely continue their demand for these services after the pandemic. Consequently, the digital healthcare industry will likely have to grow to keep up with the ongoing demand and continue to expand their services offered digitally. 

Adjustments within Assisted Living

Recent data has revealed that deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have accounted for over one-third of COVID-19 fatalities. While assisted living or nursing facilities can provide consolidated services and around-the-clock medical care, the idea that society’s most vulnerable should be housed in such close quarters may have forever lost its appeal.

“I served on the Medicaid Commission 10 years ago. It was so obvious that the last place that anybody wants to go, is a nursing home — and this was before the coronavirus,” said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a conservative health policy research group. “People want their own independent life … they don’t want to be in what’s basically a nursing-home prison, as some have called it, because they’re locked up, they can’t leave, and nobody can come to see them — it might as well be a jail. There are going to be major changes, particularly with an aging baby boom, with so many tens of millions of people who are going to need longer-term care and do not want to go to a nursing home. So how’s the private sector going to respond?”

Turner’s question speaks to a concern that existed prior to the pandemic but is now much more urgent and pertinent than ever. The demand for increased in-home assisted living treatment will continue to boom after its growth during the pandemic, and will require adjustments to meet the needs of the “new normal.”

Localizing Healthcare Manufacturing

From agricultural production to basic hygiene products, the pandemic has revealed massive weaknesses in U.S. production and supply chain processes, and one of the most critical industries within this supply chain malfunction is healthcare. 

“You’re going to see that more companies … bring more of their manufacturing capability into the United States, or at least diversify it away from China. That’s almost inevitable. I think people should be looking at all those Harvard MBAs who, for the last 20 years, have been saying, ‘Oh, move all your manufacturing to China, it’s a lot cheaper,’ and maybe had to rethink that,” 

Grace-Marie Turner, President of the Galen Institute

According to media reports and a recent Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report, many health systems have struggled with shortages due to COVID-19 and often competed with each other for necessary supplies. Various industry leaders and officials have stated that the manufacture of healthcare supplies will be necessary on a local level to prevent future shortages and breaks in the supply chain. A similar demand has been made within the pharmaceutical industry to avoid drug shortages in the U.S. in the event that primary production countries, like China, are forced to close their borders and exports. 

“You’re going to see that more companies … bring more of their manufacturing capability into the United States, or at least diversify it away from China. That’s almost inevitable. I think people should be looking at all those Harvard MBAs who, for the last 20 years, have been saying, ‘Oh, move all your manufacturing to China, it’s a lot cheaper,’ and maybe had to rethink that,” stated Grace-Marie Turner.

The new normal will be just that—new. Every industry will be in some way affected by the changes brought by COVID-19, but the healthcare industry will feel the greatest demand for continued change. These consequential changes may bring the healthcare industry into its next-generation, one focused on SDoH and WPC, informed and driven by advanced technology, and equipped with greater flexibility and more robust resources to address the root of the issues contributing to demographic vulnerabilities and better improve overall health. 

Sources:

https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/food-security-and-nutrition-assistance/#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20food%20insecurity,had%20very%20low%20food%20security.

https://hbr.org/2020/04/what-will-u-s-health-care-look-like-after-the-pandemic 

https://www.advisory.com/research/health-care-advisory-board/expert-insights/2020/covid-19-financial-impact 

https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/19/9-ways-covid-19-forever-upend-health-care/ 

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/chicagocityillinois

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/4-ways-healthcare-will-change-from-impact-covid-19-experts-say 

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