Building the ‘New Normal’: Harnessing Transformations from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Today the International Hospital Federation launches a new report and case study repository to support its community to harness transformations in healthcare realised during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acting as a radical disruptor to the ‘normal’ way of doing things, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated transformations within healthcare delivery at an unprecedented pace. In many instances, these changes have incorporated a fundamental redesign of service delivery, with profound implications for both staff and patients. The primary catalyst for change has been the urgent need for COVID-19 infection control. However, it is notable that some of the transformations we have witnessed have been long-standing priorities for healthcare systems, on which limited progress was made prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has provided a new context that allowed these previously held assumptions and norms about how care should be delivered to be urgently re-examined and, where necessary, transformed.

Drawing directly of the experiences of the IHF ‘Beyond COVID-19’ Task Force and their networks, today the IHF publishes a new report offering insights into how hospitals can embrace new ways of delivering healthcare: ‘Building the ‘New Normal’: Harnessing Transformative Practices from the COVID-19 Pandemic’. A selection of detailed case studies accompanies this publication (see below), offering further depth to the transformative changes included the report.

So in what ways have hospitals transformed?

As part of its charge, the Task Force identified potential areas of transformation across three different themes: delivery and access;  supply, logistics, and infrastructure; people. Outlined below are a flavour of transformations realised during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these changes are not new ideas but the coronavirus crisis acted as a catalyst for their acceleration and adoption.

Harnessing digital technology to provide care

In relation to delivery and access, one of the biggest ‘service shifts’ in the health sector was widespread adoption of telehealth and telemedicine. Given the high risk of transmission of coronavirus through person-to-person contact, the pandemic has accelerated an unprecedented expansion in telehealth around the world. The Task Force found that telehealth models have been implemented in the large-scale screening of patients prior to hospital visits and triage assessment; in the routine provision of care for patients at home, and also remotely monitoring patients by off-site specialists.

A quiet revolution in hospital design

Moreover, hospitals will have to examine how their physical environments and technical infrastructures can be adapted to enable greater flexibility in responding to exceptional healthcare situations in the future. In relation to supply and infrastructure, the IHF Task Force found that healthcare organisations and hospitals took three principal approaches to make lasting changes to their environments in response to COVID-19.

  1. Reorganisation of the health service facility itself: to better accommodate COVID-19 patients within a hospital, spatial and organisational adaptations have been implemented, including the reorganisation of internal ‘foot traffic’ routes and flows to separate those infected by coronavirus from those without the virus.
  2. Creation of emergency structures: in certain cases, hospitals installed prefabricated modules (e.g. shipping containers) which had been redesigned and modified to respond to the needs of the COVID-19 emergency.
  3. Conversion of existing non-health structures: some hospitals dedicated entire buildings to COVID-19 patient care and so redeveloped non-health areas within their campuses (such as staff gyms and storage units) which were either underused or abandoned.

Compassionate care in a crisis

Spending time in hospital can be an anxious experience, even more so during a challenging pandemic. Communication is vital to the mental wellbeing of patients. In its examination of transformations focused on the agenda of ‘people, the Task Force found many hospitals have revolutionised traditional ways to communicate during the pandemic when the usual ways of interacting were not possible – either due to restricted visiting or wearing personal protective equipment. In particular, virtual visiting will continue as a mainstay for families and patients to keep in touch beyond the immediate pandemic.

Moving beyond COVID-19

As hospitals enter their recovery phase post-COVID-19 and start to address the backlog of care and unmet need caused by the pandemic, they will need to maintain openness to radical innovation and learn from what made such a response possible. The need to improvise and adapt will continue for the foreseeable future; ensuring that when the next public health crisis hits, hospitals are prepared. The IHF remains committed to supporting its global community meet this challenge.

Read the new IHF report: ‘Building the ‘New Normal’: Harnessing Transformative Practices from the COVID-19 Pandemic’ and case studies here.

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