There was already a severe global shortage of hospitals and medical professionals pre-pandemic. Nurses, for instance, worked longer shifts, and hospitals, while still short-staffed, took in more patients than they could really handle. Furthermore, a significant portion of the healthcare budget was spent on chronic diseases.
The situation went from bad to worse with the coronavirus pandemic hitting every country globally. The upside is, despite facing many difficulties, hospitals have found ways to improve both patient outcomes and productivity.
How has the pandemic affected the healthcare industry?
The global coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has created high financial burdens on hospitals as revenues decline sharply and cost increase. Hospitals and health systems have to postpone non-emergency procedures, and more patients forego care out of fear of being infected.
The COVID-19 outbreaks have led to a rising number of hospitalisations and extended hospital stays. And while such cases contribute to revenue increases, any gains are offset by higher care costs for treating patients with more severe conditions. Expenses are rising across the board, from labour to drugs, purchased services, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other medical and safety supplies needed to care for higher acuity and COVID patients. As a result, prices for these necessary supplies have increased exponentially.
At the same time, the pandemic also puts a tremendous strain on hospital workers’ health as many, if not all, are constantly exposed to infected people, which forces them to quarantine and put off work for weeks.
Hospitals and health systems around the world have reported shortages of doctors and nurses needed to treat COVID-19 patients. These shortages have forced hospitals to rely on staffing firms where increased demand for health care personnel has driven a steep rise in prices. This leads to an increase in labour expenses per adjusted discharge compared with previous years.
What are the opportunities for the healthcare industry post-pandemic?
Despite the COVID-19’s relentless impacts on every aspect of businesses and people's daily lives, there are still many positive results and promising opportunities that we can count on.
As for the opportunities, the pandemic raises awareness about personal safety and community healthcare. Additionally, COVID-19 has also accelerated various digital transformation projects.
For example, the adoption of various contactless services to minimise direct contact and ensure social distancing, such as online education, self-diagnosis app services, and digital tracking of confirmed cases.
The healthcare industry pre-COVID-19 has already been implementing advanced solutions such as AI programs to diagnose cancer with 90% accuracy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients chose contactless online treatments over face-to-face. This gives rise to services like telemedicine, which are naturally contactless as they do not require direct interaction between patients and medical staff.
The advantages of implementing contactless in healthcare services are guaranteed safety plus timely, consistent, accessible, and affordable care. Patients can connect with medical staff virtually to receive proper and personalised care.
The downside is that it can be challenging to build trust between doctors and patients. In certain cases, illnesses and diseases are impossible to diagnose virtually with just a few simple questions about symptoms. Ineffective communications might also be a hurdle that might lead to declined repeat purchases, and patients seek other options.
For years, hospitals have been struggling to adjust their budgets to lower expenses for irreplaceable components (ambulances, syringes, infusion bottles, medicines, etc.) as drug expenses per adjusted discharge have increased 36% year over year. It is forecasted that drug prices would continue to increase in the next years.
No one can provide a definite answer to when the pandemic ends. It would take a long time for the healthcare industry to adapt to the business-as-unusual world post-pandemic. But the path forward is always there.