April 27, 2020

Many health systems are currently focused on the immediate pandemic events as they work to overcome the battle with the coronavirus. When the pandemic is under control, it’s unlikely we will pick up where we left off. Health systems will be faced with a myriad of choices for how to best move forward with their future approach to healthcare.

Recently I participated in a virtual think tank discussion with other design and construction professionals. The Society of Marketing Professionals (SMPS) Nashville Chapter hosted a virtual webinar to consider the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare market and how our clients will cope with the post-pandemic era. While predicting the future is difficult, I’m sharing five highlights from the webinar discussion on how the coronavirus might impact the future of healthcare.


Planning Prioritized

Preparedness looks different in different areas of the healthcare industry—proactive planning for nursing homes and rural hospitals will look drastically different than it will for academic medical centers and level one trauma centers. However, regardless of the type of facility, future planning efforts will likely use scenario planning to hypothesize how health systems will respond to future events. Additionally, hospitals will likely create thorough surge capacity plans and they may start doing disaster drills to increase preparedness.

Balancing the business pressures of running a healthcare facility or system against being prepared for another pandemic event is also needed. Our clients will look for planning options to support good decision-making within a host of new considerations. It’s also important to remember that preparedness isn’t just about facilities and supplies—preparedness is also about staff. Some health systems I’ve spoken with have been retraining staff to do jobs that are more in demand to handle the surge flow.


Increased Flexibility and Adaptability

As hospitals approach surge capacity, healthcare professionals have been forced to creatively make space for incoming patients. While the traditional response post-pandemic would be to add more patient rooms, hospitals should instead increase flexibility and adaptability. It’s difficult to predict pandemic needs, especially because care depends on acuity level, so it’s important to equip spaces with the necessary infrastructure—such as oxygen and other medical gasses—so that they can quickly repurpose spaces.


Decanting the Medical Center

Hospitals have long housed many aspects of care services under one roof, creating a healthcare destination. However, it will likely take time before patients are totally comfortable re-entering a hospital for fear of virus exposure. Because of this, it’s logical to see the continued and accelerated relocation of outpatient specialty care to facilities outside the hospital. The challenge will be to promote a high level of care within a more accessible and inviting location.


Expanded Telehealth Services

Academic medical centers and large hospitals have been traditionally seen as the place to go for comprehensive care, but this pandemic has also accelerated the use and legitimacy of telemedicine. Telehealth will continue to grow in use for low-acuity patients, and may even be used to check on patients after major health events and eliminate some of the hospital visits.  This likely increased use of telehealth will drive the need to bolster the IT/communications infrastructure and system training for healthcare providers.


Revisiting Lean Process Planning

Over the past two decades, the need to “lean” or increase efficiencies within a care setting has affected a wide range of systems. From staffing and warehousing goods to room sizes, the support systems have been sized to minimize waste and streamline processes. In many cases the “leaning” process had not considered the extreme requirements of an event such as COVID-19. Future planning will likely revisit operating capacity tolerances for many aspects of care facilities.

From front-end planning to facility design and operations, the coronavirus pandemic is set to reshape the healthcare industry in many ways. If you’d like to watch the full think tank discussion, you can check it out online here.