During the pandemic, the US healthcare system was tested. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the crisis has revealed specific challenges about America’s healthcare. It even exposed the effect of structural racism when it comes to receiving proper healthcare.
But with every challenge is a possible solution; when implemented, these solutions can improve the current status of US healthcare.
Problems faced by the healthcare system
At the height of the pandemic, an increase in cases and hospitalizations was observed. This resulted in challenges in terms of capacity and resources when it comes to handling COVID-19 cases. In addition, rural areas have fewer resources, to begin with; thus, dealing with the surge in cases was even more difficult for such areas.
To free up space in hospitals for COVID-19 patients, most hospitals postponed elective care. Elective care is planned care as opposed to unplanned emergency care. The National Library of Medicine also adds that many elective surgery cancellations have been attributed to the pandemic.
This technique has proved helpful for many healthcare providers and states; it has given their areas room in capacity. However, it soon ceased effectivity as elective care patients soon needed urgent care.
The USA Today also mentioned in August that hospitals are getting swamped with unvaccinated patients again due to the new delta variant. Some skeptics think that swamped hospitals are not unusual. But Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says it is unusual to have a line in ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.
Indeed, the number of COVID-19 patients has overwhelmed the capacity of most hospitals in the US and around the world.
The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to resume normal activities while a resurgence brought by new variants is seen. Masks and testing kits are part of these essentials, too. However, the demand has exceeded the supply of PPEs as healthcare providers and businesses, schools, and the entire public use PPEs.
PPEs include N95 masks, gloves, ventilators, and testing supplies. It’s not only needed in the US but across the world. Therefore, a significant increase in price and lack of supply can be experienced during the pandemic.
Nancy Foster of the American Health Organization speaks with NPR to talk about the challenges of the healthcare workforce. Foster explains that since the outbreak is widespread, staffing is a concern when delegating to different areas in the US.
In addition, healthcare workers are also at high risk when dealing with COVID-19 patients. At the same time, they are faced with stress and fatigue due to long working hours and increasing demand from the job. As a consequence, some healthcare workers have to stop working for a while due to virus exposure. Stress has also been a reason for some healthcare provider’s early retirement from the job.
On top of this, medical and nursing schools have chosen to delay clinical rotations that ultimately results in fewer new hospital staff.
Challenges are meant to be overcome. This can be done by following specific measures like developing proper plans, anticipating potential shortages, and creating contingency strategies.
As mentioned above, most hospitals chose to delay elective care to accommodate more COVID-19 patients. However, this resulted in a negative financial impact on medical institutions and the US healthcare system overall. Therefore, the strategy should not be to decide whether to accommodate elective procedures or COVID-19 patients; it should accommodate both.
To do this, institutions should balance by doing the following measures:
- Limitations and criteria for choosing which type of elective care is necessary to postpone first and which ones need to be attended to immediately
- Using current data to anticipate future demand to prepare hospital facilities such as ICU beds.
- Virtual care can be utilized depending on a patient’s medical needs.
- Hospital spaces can be used as rooms to increase capacity.
- Partnerships with other hospitals can effectively guide patients to facilities that still have available admissions.
- When COVID-19 cases are low, immediately proceed with elective care.
The key to getting enough supply is through proper management and anticipating possible shortages. Facilities and systems must track the inflow of supply and demand by using a real-time dashboard. Sources can also be expanded by contacting manufacturers directly or sourcing from nearby facilities with excess supply.
In addition, conservation of supply is necessary.
For the healthcare workforce in the country to be strengthened, several measures can be taken. That includes training and contingency staffing and taking care of healthcare worker’s health and overall well-being.
When it comes to increasing healthcare workers, joining a CNA program will add certified nursing assistants to help with different hospital needs. Hospitals can also expedite the process and make the onboarding faster to increase staffing.
For the health of the hospital workers to be a top concern, rapid COVID-19 tests must be available for all employees. This can also help limit the spread of the virus among hospital staff and their families.