Can we in the healthcare sector ever talk about a time 'after the coronavirus'?

The impact of the coronavirus on the healthcare sector

The coronavirus does not really come as a surprise. Experts have been warning for years about a pandemic caused by such a virus. But despite being warned, the whole world is turned upside down. The virus is currently having a major impact on the healthcare sector, and we are far from over. Virologist Marion Koopmans says that we will not go back to 'business as usual' for the time being and that there is a good chance that it will never be the same again (NRC, 2020). Can we ever talk about a time after the coronavirus? For now, there is no going back to square one for this infection. The virus will become a part of our lives and we have to look at how to deal with it. In every industry, but especially in healthcare, we have to be creative in the search and design of innovative solutions. We have to organize our care in such a way that we can deal with the coronavirus that will remain in our lives for years to come.

Even before the corona crisis, the healthcare sector was faced with tough dilemmas: such as increasingly complex healthcare questions, the increase in the need for healthcare and a shortage of qualified personnel. In order to remain future-proof, the healthcare sector has been busy for some time with various initiatives. Due to the shortage of capacity, the focus of care in the future must be on prevention and keeping society healthy. To achieve this, the healthcare sector is working on many innovative solutions in which technology often plays a major role. This results in two trends; capacity management and digital transformation. The coronavirus has a major impact on these two trends. In addition to the fact that the coronavirus affects these two existing challenges, it also means that the healthcare sector is looking critically at other processes. For example, the purchasing process for pharmaceuticals and medical devices is currently being closely examined.

Curious about the impact of the coronavirus on the healthcare sector? Below we give our vision of the biggest changes.

The impact of the coronavirus on capacity management in healthcare

The coronavirus has made capacity management an even more important factor in healthcare. Most corona measures are expected to be needed for at least another 12 to 24 months (Stanford News, 2020). Strict measures will remain in force in the various healthcare institutions after this as well. This is in order to be more resistant to viruses and infections in the future. As a result, for example, protective equipment will be worn more often. This obviously has a major impact on the working method of healthcare workers. Wearing protective equipment makes care less personal and less comfortable. Process lead times are increasing because safety regulations regarding protective equipment take time to comply with. This creates an even greater shortage in capacity. In addition, great demands are made on the facilities department of the healthcare institutions. The design of many healthcare institutions has to be turned upside down almost completely. In order to be able to guarantee 1.5 meters away, waiting rooms, treatment rooms and accommodation departments must be furnished differently. This does not benefit the capacity of the healthcare institutions. The importance of effective capacity management continues to increase. As a result, prevention and the creation of a healthy society and thus limiting the influx and residence in healthcare institutions are now more important than ever. As stated in the introduction, the digital transformation will play a very important role in this.

The digital transformation is accelerating

Various technological developments and digitization offer the elderly, among others, the opportunity to increase their self-reliance and freedom of movement. These developments also help to reduce the workload for care providers. To achieve these benefits, it is important that medical technology is used on a large scale. The healthcare sector was already taking steps towards digital working and EHealth to be able to manage future healthcare demand. We are working hard on technological initiatives that contribute to the vision to keep an aging society healthy and to prevent hospitalization as much as possible. The coronavirus is forcing the healthcare sector to roll out the digital options, which were often already under development, more quickly. Working digitally was suddenly no longer an option, but a must. To give an example: Many GP practices were already setting up an online portal so that, for example, small spots on the skin can be digitally assessed. Due to the virus, this process of digital assessment has been implemented at high speed. Various eHealth applications are now also being developed and brought onto the market at an accelerated pace. Because Corona will remain a part of our society in the coming years, the need for digital working will continue or at least return regularly. The use of the digital channels contributes to their acceptance by patients. All in all, this necessity is accelerating the digital transformation.

From globalization back to regionalization?

Globalization is seen as a natural process, driven by economic and technological factors. The coronavirus is making us weigh these benefits of globalization differently. It makes us realize how vulnerable we are as a society. We are very dependent on the production of medicines and medical devices in other, often distant countries, and the transport across national borders and great distances. We are now noticing that this dependence can lead to major shortages in our inventories. During the crisis, various local initiatives were launched to obtain sufficient medicines and medical aids. For example, bed manufacturer Auping, in collaboration with Panton and DSM, has set up a production line for face masks, disinfection gel is made in beer breweries and pharmacists are once again preparing medicines themselves.

The coronavirus has made the healthcare sector aware that the procurement and supply routes of primary goods such as medicines and medical devices must be tightened up. National management of (basic) stocks ensures a fair distribution in the event of impending shortages and prevents unwanted price effects. The question is also increasingly being asked whether we should get all our medical aids and medication from abroad. This crisis is thus causing a counter-reaction to globalization. The prediction is that we will reorganize our supply chain, so that we are more flexible and less dependent.

In conclusion, the coronavirus will also have a huge impact on healthcare in the coming period. Where the sector has already struggled with capacity management, corona only makes this problem worse. The virus also forces the healthcare sector to work more digitally, which means that many technological initiatives are developed faster and the digital transformation accelerates. In addition to these trends already present, the current crisis has exposed how vulnerable the availability of medicines and medical devices is due to foreign production and long supply routes. We need to reduce these risks by spreading purchasing, rethinking local production and building up national (basic) stocks.

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