As I sit at home, like most of you, I am amazed at how quickly the world has evolved from what we always knew and trusted to a new, unprecedented state of uncertainty in which we have no idea what the future will hold. In the six weeks that most of us have been sequestered in our homes, so much has happened. The whole world has seemingly closed down. In healthcare, we’ve seen a startling dichotomy: Emergency departments and ICUs in hot spot areas have been overrun, while elective surgeries have been canceled and hospitals and many physician offices avoided, except by individuals with COVID-19.
The pandemic and the need for us to all be #alonetogether have accelerated the acceptance and implementation of many ideas and models that prior to COVID-19 were considered back burner — potentially helpful but hardly top priority. The current situation has highlighted what has always been true: Being in an environment with potential exposure to infection, including and especially hospitals and physician offices, can be dangerous to one’s health.
Now, more than ever, we must do everything we can to protect ourselves — and each other — from unnecessary exposure to infection.
To that end, an unprecedented amount of medical service has transitioned to telehealth. In the span of just days or weeks, many small and large practices with no prior telecare capability have pivoted to offering services via an electronic visit platform. They did so because the current situation of doing what we can to reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus demanded it.
In further efforts to support patients, insurance companies are waiving copays, relaxing prior authorization and other processes used to manage inappropriate utilization, and providing easier and more access for patients throughout the country. The pandemic presents a difficult situation for these companies. While many businesses are struggling to pay their premiums, resulting in lost revenue, health plans are simultaneously being asked to provide multimillion-dollar loans to support physician practices that have been financially decimated by the lack of procedures and in-person visits.
Many of these dynamics are largely invisible to the American public. Except for those on the front lines, the rest of us are on computers in our home offices or dining rooms, juggling home-schooling kids while preparing for Zoom calls, quieting barking dogs, looking professional (at least on top; it may be pajamas on the bottom), trying to master the art of video visiting (and wondering why we have not done this before) ... the list goes on. We are attempting to maintain the normal in a situation that is anything but.
As a result, some remarkable things have happened. We have figured out creative ways to stay connected. We have softened. There’s more generosity of spirit, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, compassion, gratitude — expressed all day, every day, in interactions between people all over the world. There’s laughter at our individual and collective lack of grace in figuring out how to manage in this time of uncertainty and use new (to many of us) technology.
We are cheering for healthcare workers, silently and out loud, alone but together. Every meeting begins with empathetic questions about how others are doing, and not just the toss-away “How are you?” of pre-COVID-19 times but a heartfelt “How are you, really?” And, in my experience, each meeting ends with genuine wishes of good health and safety. The outbreak has kindled a collective spirit.
We must, though, take care to protect those at greater risk and recognize that we are not all evenly affected by the virus. Those living with preexisting chronic and other conditions are at heightened risk, and older people, those living in nursing homes and African Americans have been disproportionately affected by suffering and death.
Let us remember the interconnectedness and dependency we feel today. And let us hold on to the generosity of spirit and the lessons we have learned as we move forward. We must bring both to our collective and ongoing work of managing healthcare. These respectful, thoughtful interactions are precisely what will spark our collaborative innovation and ensure the best care for all of us.
Lili Brillstein is CEO of BCollaborative, which provides strategic advisory services to stakeholders across the healthcare continuum, and a member of the Managed Healthcare Executive® editorial advisory board.