The pandemic has been a wake-up call for the whole world. Forward-thinking health care providers have taken the disruption as an opportunity to take a fresh look at the way they meet changing patient expectations around experience, deliver better patient outcomes and accommodate the needs of their staff.
Here are 5 notable post-pandemic healthcare trends that are being spearheaded by patient needs and changing attitudes and expectations in society.
#1 The Increased use of remote video services in healthcare
In many ways, the pandemic accelerated the transition to what was already coming in the future and the huge rise in the use of remote video consultations in healthcare is one of the most profound trends to have emerged.
The truth is that remote video technology has been around for some time but many clinicians were worried that patients would be unhappy if they couldn’t see them in person.
But as it turned out, most people were actually quite comfortable with the idea of a virtual consultation. In fact, many found it more convenient than having to travel to a practice or clinic for in person visits.
The most popular remote video service by far has been Zoom. Zoom has truly become a household name – a verb, much like ‘Google’ means to search, ‘Hoover’ means to vacuum – Zoom now means to video conference. With Zoom, practices and clinics found they were able to have valuable non clinical virtual care for patients.
What are the benefits of remote video services for healthcare businesses?
Even during closures, healthcare businesses can maintain a flow of leads who want high-value treatment by holding virtual meetings. This enables them to nurture and build rapport with leads so that when they reopen they have a steady stream of new patients ready to go ahead and take up treatment.
This rather neatly allows them to satisfy the needs of the ‘patient turned consumer’ who coincidentally wanted more convenience, choice and improved access to advice at a time that’s convenient to them anyway. Healthcare businesses are busy places with teams and resources that are often overstretched.
Remote video consultations mean:
- new leads can be given initial consultations quickly
- more patients can be given advice as a part of their treatment
- remote consultations can be undertaken by additional team members who can work away from the clinic
- because remote consultations don’t need treatment rooms or surgeries, they don’t need space in clinics and practices either.
In the case of treatment like Invisalign for example, the benefits extend to remote monitoring too. When apps like SmileMate are used in conjunction with tools like zoom, dentists can track the progress of the alignment process and reassure patients remotely.
What are the benefits of remote video services for patients?
The great thing about remote video consultations is not only are they better in many ways for healthcare businesses, but they offer significant benefits for patients too. Today’s patient is a healthcare consumer and expects a better experience. Remote consultations help provide that by taking some of the friction out of the experience and eliminating the need for the inconvenience of travel and waiting times.
Some of the advantages of online video consultations for patients
- able to choose a time that’s more convenient for them
- don’t have to leave their homes
- increases patient engagement
- feel like they have more control over their care
- can choose a time that’s more convenient for them
- enjoy much faster communication with their healthcare provider
During the height of the pandemic and forced closures, patients had no choice but to accept virtual consultations but they soon found them to be invaluable.
As healthcare organizations began to reopen, many patients had understandable concerns about possible infections and continued to opt for virtual consultations. However as time passed, people grew tired of being housebound and craved outside experiences and human interaction. Many healthcare clinics have since continued to offer a blend of in-person and virtual consultations to suit individual preferences.
It’s safe to say that virtual consultations are here to stay for those who want them because of the flexibility they provide for patients and clinics. For many, the increased use of virtual consultations for non-clinical parts of the patient journey is seen as a positive development during the pandemic.
#2 Accelerated consumerization of patients
Another healthcare trend that’s been dramatically accelerated is the transition from patient to healthcare consumer.
It’s fair to say that in the past, many local healthcare businesses have been slow to adapt to new technologies and the pandemic has changed that. Consumers shape all markets and in the same way, patients are now shaping healthcare. When interacting with a private clinic, practice or private hospital, people expect the same service-oriented experience they’d get in any other consumer/provider scenario. They want to be able to see their own data, manage their own treatment plans and be empowered to schedule consultations themselves.
The consumerisation of patients also means
- they have unprecedented choice
- they’re more likely to ‘shop’ for treatments and compare services
- they have easy access to vast amounts of healthcare information
- they’re self-educating
- they expect the ability to book online 24/7
- they’re not afraid to ask questions or challenge authority
- they expect faster, better service in all areas of healthcare
- they value convenience and flexibility
Until recently there was a general view that healthcare couldn’t be delivered in the same way as services offered by other private businesses. However, the pandemic has forced a change. The bottom line is you need to build and deliver a world-class patient experience if you want to thrive in today’s competitive healthcare market.
The shift to a more patient-centric service
The need to satisfy the new healthcare consumer has led some health care providers to employ staff with the best high touch customer service skills from the hospitality industry, which was decimated by the effects of restrictions and closures during the height of the pandemic and saw many redundancies.
For some practices, the quest for better patient journeys has seen them move away from traditional approaches to delivering care. A more customer-focused service can increase the perceived value of healthcare services by improving patient engagement, which in turn boosts outcomes, leads to a better patient experience and cements long term relationships between patient and practice.
#3 Physician burnout
The disruption caused by the global pandemic has caused many healthcare workers to be pushed to the edge. It’s led to a wave of harmful stress in the form of overwhelm, fatigue and anxiety.
We have also seen the introduction of more stringent requirements for wellbeing and employee programs. These add even more pressure for healthcare practice owners as they are held increasingly accountable for the physical and mental wellbeing of their teams. The effects of burnout have been found to negatively impact job performance and cause more errors that can negatively affect patient outcomes.
But it’s not just the knock-on effects of the pandemic that are causing these feelings. Dentists, doctors and clinicians have been working with high levels of burnout for years – way before the pandemic hit. Quotas, regulatory pressures, detailed record-keeping and increasingly public patient complaints that could erode professional reputations and fears of litigation have been a part of everyday life.
We often hear about the global pandemic but forget there’s also a staffing crisis, many practices are understaffed (particularly on the front desk) and working hours for a sole practitioner can be 60+ hours a week. Because of the relatively low pay and stressful working conditions, it’s becoming difficult to find first-class team members with healthcare experience to fill positions. When you add the pressure of not only having to meet the expectations of patients but also running a profitable practice, or operating within a corporate dentistry group that expect more than you can realistically achieve – it’s no wonder that dentists can feel like they are drowning instead of making a decent living.
It’s why many senior dentists are retiring early and younger dentists are migrating to private dentistry and it’s a situation that’s often described as a crisis.
Medscape has put together a report that shows just how much of an impact the pandemic has had. Read the full report here.
#4 Wellbeing Of Healthcare Employees
Another important healtcare trend is the wellbeing of employees that work in the healthcare sector.
The pressure is not only felt by physicians but also by nurses (who often don’t get paid overtime) and support or clerical staff too, who can spend 12-14 hours a day at work – often working through their breaks.
If employees aren’t looking after themselves emotionally and physically, they’re not able to provide the right levels of care for others either. This can also increase dissatisfaction amongst patients who quickly become frustrated by long wait times or poor communication.
Healthcare is a profession with high stakes and huge responsibilities – patients are trusting you with their health. That’s why safeguarding your team’s wellbeing and maintaining high performance is so important – but that’s yet another source of pressure and stress for healthcare business owners.
In many cases, employees have to work long hours or face being understaffed. This pressure can lead to employees feeling resentful toward their jobs and employers, leading to higher rates of absenteeism, low morale and high turnover rates. But many providers are still reluctant to talk about these issues and the problem is that by not talking about it, they avoid finding out what their staff are really thinking – and this leads to even more problems.
Helping your team to consistently deliver the best possible patient experience and care is one of the biggest parts of a healthcare business owners job. But it’s really important that you look after yourself so you can be there for them too.
#5 Mental Health In Your Healthcare Business
It’s a given that mental health issues are not uncommon in the community, so it follows that they’re not uncommon in the workplace either. Mental health is an important aspect of any business and healthcare is no exception. From the frontline staff who interact with patients to the leaders who make strategic decisions, everyone needs to be aware of mental health issues and how they can impact their work.
Mental Health relates to psychological well-being and includes social and behavioural health. It’s also a person’s ability to enjoy life, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and interact socially. It includes an individual’s ability to make choices and decisions, think clearly, manage emotions and/or behaviours, maintain attention focus, understand others and the world around them.
Although discrimination on the basis of mental or physical disability is not permitted, some employers are sometimes reluctant to accommodate employees with these issues. Untrained healthcare business owners and managers may also feel uncomfortable discussing these issues with employees. This discomfort can lead to wrong assumptions, over-simplifications and ignorance.
How Can Mental Illness Affect Employees?
Mental Health problems can limit an employee’s ability to fulfil their job requirements, lead to negative workplace behaviours or cause illness/injury for other employees or patients.
Mental illness is an aspect of human health that’s not always immediately obvious to others. It can include conditions such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders and psychosis. These illnesses typically affect the employee’s ability to think, feel and act at work. This could be due to low energy levels, mood swings, anger, frustration or social withdrawal. Other symptoms may include reduced concentration, memory impairment, stubbornness, cynicism and apathy. The side effects of some mental illnesses can be more obvious to others. These include behaviours such as aggression, agitation, anger, hyperactivity or irritability.
Employees with mental health problems are often high-risk candidates for physical injury at work. They may be more likely to injure themselves and colleagues or have accidents that lead to injury to patients.
As a healthcare business owner, your staff are your most important resource. The cost of replacing an employee – one who is otherwise reliable, skilled, experienced and familiar with the workplace culture – can be expensive. On the other hand, providing support to an employee experiencing mental ill-health can also require valuable resources.
The good news is that unlike in the past, there is now less stigma associated with asking for help and mental health doesn’t feel like such a taboo subject anymore – there is increased openness and genuine concern. But with this openness comes the responsibility to provide the right support and help to those who need mental health care.
The pandemic and the resulting widespread public health emergency have forced the healthcare industry to face some difficult realities, but it’s also led to the emergence of important new healthcare trends that should propel the industry forward.
Healthcare providers are leveraging the convenience of digital solutions like remote video services to help increase access to care with virtual primary care, patient satisfaction is key, but physicians are experiencing burnout at unprecedented levels ad there’s a staffing crisis throughout healthcare.
We’ve seen unprecedented disruption but also great innovation in the last 2 years in the health system and healthcare leaders need to continue the work of adapting and transforming if it’s to meet the needs of its practice and clinic owners, employees and of course – patients.
Remember – It is not the strongest of the species that survives, it’s the one that is most adaptable to change!