What COVID-19 means for the future of acute care: 4 healthcare leaders weigh in

The COVID-19 pandemic is the kind of seminal event that divides history into a before and an after. In perhaps no other industry will these markers of change be as noticeable as in healthcare.

During a July 14 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Vituity, a panel of healthcare leaders discussed the immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of acute care delivery.

Panelists were:

  • Theo Koury, MD, president of Vituity
  • Denise Brown, MD, chief growth officer of Vituity
  • Rick Rawson, president, Calif.-based Adventist Health and Rideout
  • Joanne Roberts, MD, chief value officer at Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health

Here are four takeaways from the discussion, focused on the front-line driven strategy to evolve care delivery from the traditional transactional business model into a more relational one:

1. COVID-19 as a change agent: Dr. Roberts used the change management idiom "burning platform" — which is used to indicate an urgent need for change — to describe COVID-19's influence on healthcare operations.

"We've never seen a burning platform for driving change like COVID," Dr. Roberts said, citing Providence St. Joseph's efforts to increase its telehealth offerings amid the pandemic.

"There was a real public health urgency [around expanding] virtual care rapidly at a scale we never imagined we'd do," Dr. Roberts said. "Our business leaders said, 'Do the right thing clinically, we'll get out of the way, and we'll figure out the business aspect on the back end.'"

2. Improving access to emergency care: At Adventist Health and Rideout, surges of COVID-19 patients limited the organization's ability to meet the emergency care needs of its community. Patients were hesitant to go to the emergency department for fear of contracting the virus. Once an initial surge of COVID-19 patients calmed, Mr. Rawson took to local radio to let the community know it was safe to go to the hospital for emergency care. With future surges imminent, the California hospital is working with Vituity — the organization's emergency care provider — on taking some emergency care virtual.

"Vituity has [created] platforms to engage with patients [and initiate emergency care] at home," Mr. Rawson said. "We think this could be a sustainable way of improving access to emergency care and better coordinating capacity in our emergency department on a long-term basis."

3. The shift to virtual shouldn't fragment care: Providers have been pushing to deliver patients holistic, integrated care in which clinicians across specialties can easily get on the same page with other providers. As more care moves to virtual settings, healthcare leaders should not lose sight of the importance of care integration and allow care to become fragmented. Fragmented care can contribute to worse outcomes and increased costs.

"As we develop these solutions, we need to do it in a way that keeps the care integrated," Dr. Koury said. "In the past, patients have been lost by [healthcare] systems, and I could see a situation where even more are lost [virtually]. Care navigation just becomes even more critical in this new world."

Koury added, “The transformation of care takes place through engaged stakeholders finding solutions to problems that they face every day, and the clinical leader's role is to create that environment of engagement and culture of innovation that will bring those solutions to life.”

4. Shift the 'post-COVID world' conversation: Dr. Brown said a lot of the talk about a post-COVID future overlooks or minimizes the fact that the pandemic will leave an indelible mark on the healthcare industry and society as a whole.

"Everyone keeps talking about a post-COVID world. We in healthcare can acknowledge that there is no such thing as a post-COVID world. There's life with COVID and whatever comes next," Dr. Brown said, adding that current uncertainties mean healthcare organizations need to remain agile and prepared to execute rapid adjustments. The chief growth officer and physician added that many of the quick adaptions Vituity and its partners have made will support better care delivery no matter the difficulties of the environment.

"Some of the things we've been able to put together in response to this crisis actually sets us up to deliver better care to more people no matter what," Dr. Brown said. "Whether it's flu or COVID or something else … we need to meet people where they are and take care of them where they need to be taken care of rather than waiting for them to come to us."

To view a recording of the webinar, click here.

About Vituity

For nearly 50 years, Vituity has been a catalyst for positive change in healthcare. As a physician-led and -owned multispecialty partnership, our 4,200 doctors and clinicians care for 6.5 million patients each year across 400 practice locations and nine acute care specialties. Learn about our innovative solutions to healthcare challenges at vituity.com.

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