Updated: Jul 28
Coronavirus has revealed new holes in our rigid healthcare infrastructure. We're experiencing a system ill-prepared for pandemics where hospitals are facing critical shortages.
One thing to remember is that complex systems tend to be more open to change after some type of major shock destabilizes them. Think of the 2008 financial crisis; it shocked an old system causing new regulatory reforms for the banking industry, just in case it happened again. So how will the shock of coronavirus impact our current healthcare system?
Here are 4 ways coronavirus will change our approach to healthcare:
The Rise of Telehealth
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, we have been reorienting the way we interact with others, especially in regard to medical care. Telehealth, in particular, has seen an unprecedented surge creating excitement yet major challenges for Telehealth providers' infrastructure. Federal privacy regulations and payment policies are being excused on Telehealth platforms to try and keep up with the demand.
One example is the Telehealth company, Teladoc Health,. Teladoc has seen a 50% spike in daily patient visits since coronavirus hit the U.S. in January.
In March, the Trump Administration authorized an expansion of Medicare that covers Telehealth, allowing the elderly access to care without leaving their homes. In states like Texas and Florida, a slew of regulations have been temporarily waived to help protect the health of patients and health care professionals.
This rapid widespread adaptation of Telehealth is showcasing the benefits of its use--keeping doctors safe from illnesses and providing vulnerable patients with convenient support. Telehealth has taken center stage right now and is proving its effectiveness with its ability to increase access to care for patients worldwide.
As more patients and healthcare institutions become familiar with Telehealth, they may begin to ask themselves -- why they haven't been using it all along? This effect has the potential to create a big influence on the way healthcare institutions deliver care from here on out.
The beginnings of Telemedicine have existed through primitive forms of communication and technology. During Roman and pre-Hippocratic periods, people who were too ill to visit temples for medical care were sent representatives to record their symptoms and bring them a diagnosis and treatment. In Africa, villagers would use smoke signals to warn neighboring villages of a disease outbreak.
The Fall of Human Interactions and the Impact On Our Health
Thanks to social distancing, we are now living at a time where touching things, being with other people, and breathing the same air in an enclosed space can be risky. Soon, it may become second nature to refrain from shaking hands or touching our faces. Experts have stated they expect related cases of OCD to spike due to coronavirus. According to David Veale, a psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital in London says that the coronavirus threat could onset OCD in individuals for the first time. "If someone's got the right genes and they've had all the right experiences to shape them, coronavirus could be a trigger to set the whole thing off."
But what about the importance of human contact? In the U.K., crematoriums imposed strict social distancing measures by asking mourners to avoid hugging and hand-shaking. Yet, as humans, we crave contact with others for support and well-being - especially in times of bereavement.
In a 2010 report by The Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. The study found the development and worsening of cardiovascular disease, repeat heart attacks, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, cancer, and slowed wound healing for those with lower social engagements.
As germaphobic distancing and migration to digital environments increase the space between us, how will our health physically and mentally be affected?
Severe Doctor Burnout
Severe burnout is increasing amongst doctors and nurses due to the over-stress in today's burdened healthcare system. In Europe, where the virus is spreading rapidly, thousands of medical students are being fast-tracked into doctors in an attempt to help fight the virus and ease some pressure off the doctors.
In 2018, a survey of American physicians found that 78 percent experienced burnout, and as we can suspect, when providers burn out, patients are less likely to get the quality of care they need. Today, healthcare workers are braving the high risk of exposure to the virus, understaffing, long hours, and inadequate resources. This burden could compromise the immune systems of health care workers and make them more vulnerable to the disease— and other illnesses—than they usually would be.
So what is the aftermath of all of this? Doctors feeling heroic, yet neglected, proud yet physically exhausted? With this amount of stress and burnout - we can only hope healthcare systems and facilities will support our hard-working doctors when the dust has settled.
Holistic Medicine: The Rise of the "Post-Corona" Paradigm
Societal shock can break many ways of thinking, causing a fracture in dogmatic viewpoints while also welcoming fresh and open-minded ones. With modern medicine being at the forefront of acute care, holistic and integrative medicine is known to be important for providing health creation, prevention, and improved well-being.
While no drugs have yet to be approved to treat the virus, more than 80 percent of coronavirus patients in China are being treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) alongside mainstream antiviral drugs. According to Reuters, the Chinese government has also started emergency research programs, including research into TCM. While acknowledging that TCM cannot cure coronavirus – some experts said they had witnessed a higher recovery rate among those using both TCM and Western drugs, than solely mainstream treatment. In New York City, acupuncturist and herbalist, Clayton Shiu, also reported a jump in demand for herbs and other holistic remedies after New York announced its first case of coronavirus. Meditation apps like Headspace and Simple Habit have started offering free services as coronavirus anxiety rises, driving people to turn inward for answers.
Much of our resistance to sickness is in our hands. And taking care of the body and mind may become critically important in the aftermath. Clayton Shiu and the team at Headspace might be early examples of how the integration of therapies such as acupuncture, nutrition, and meditation will play a big role in the future of healthcare.
So, What's Next?
The consequences of coronavirus are heavily going to impact our healthcare system and the individuals affected by it. On April 18th, 1pm-2:15pm CDT, 4 global health experts will be joining forces in a COVID-19 Online Healthcare Conference to discuss how we can support our healthcare systems and improve our health and well-being after COVID-19. The hope from this discussion is that we as a community can begin preparing for the aftermath, now.
To join this discussion RSVP here.
And if you need to journal to blow some steam or keep your sanity, check out this journaling app QuestOn . It runs sentiment analysis on your entries to determine how you’re feeling about what’s going on in your life!
Stay safe (and inside).