Three Areas of Focus as We Move Beyond COVID-19

As countries begin to reopen, healthcare suddenly has an added level of stress and uncertainty. According to Steve Burrill, Vice Chairman and National Sector Leader at Deloitte, workforce planning, supply chain integrity and working capital should now be key areas of focus for healthcare leaders.

I recently spoke with Burrill to learn more about these three specific areas and what leaders should be doing.

Workforce Planning

According to Burrill, the pandemic has completely upended the way we think about work. Companies and healthcare organizations used to shy away from having remote employees – citing increased productivity when people are together in the same physical space. Being isolated at home has taught us that with tools like Zoom, Google Cloud, Go-to-Meeting, Microsoft Teams, etc we can indeed be productive while meeting virtually.

“It’s not like we suddenly all became unproductive while working from home,” said Burrill. “We found a way to adapt and we proved to ourselves and to the organizations we work for that we can be remote.”

As the pandemic subsides, Burrill believes that healthcare organizations will need to re-evaluate their approach to staffing as well as workforce planning, including:

  • More skilled staff (behavioral health, infection prevention, facilities)
  • More temporary staff to handle patient surges
  • More shifts in order to mitigate risk of staff transmission (and address burnout)
  • Telehealth technology training
  • Telehealth bedside manner training (caring for patients when you aren’t in the same location)
  • Knowing what can be done virtually/remotely versus what requires face-to-face

Healthcare organizations that embrace this shift in the way we work, will thrive. Those that attempt to revert back to the way things were will quickly find themselves as undesirable places to work. It won’t happen overnight, but in the months ahead we will see noticeable changes to healthcare workforces.

Supply Chain Integrity

For years, healthcare has prided itself on operating in a way that we perceived to be efficient – having only the materials we needed at exactly the right time we needed them to optimize operations and get the most out of our dollars. Holding inventory is expensive and space is always at a premium within the walls of hospitals and physician offices.

“We celebrated achieving just-in-time supply chains in healthcare,” said Burrill. “And then the pandemic showed us that our rush to zero inventory doesn’t work quite so well when the global distribution system shuts down.”

We all know the story about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Almost overnight PPE became scarce and the lack of supply put many frontline healthcare workers at unnecessary risk of infection. Things got so desperate that many providers had to appeal to their local communities for equipment. PPE may have gotten all the press, but other consumables have become more difficult to acquire as the global medical supply chain slowed to a trickle.

It is unrealistic to expect hospitals to build their own stockpiles of medical equipment. Burrill suggests instead that healthcare organizations do three key things:

  • Establish a crisis-response office: A crisis-response office could help organize, prioritize and manage various workstreams. This office could include a monitoring/intelligence cell to track and decipher information sources and provide a daily common operating picture at an executive level.
  • Prioritize resources: Resources should be dedicated to meeting the needs of the most at-risk or most-appropriate patients. Leaders should also implement conservation practices for PPE products and other supplies that could be in short supply.
  • Identify new sources: Given the scarcity of some supplies, health system leaders should identify potential new sources of PPE products, equipment, and drugs.

“Supply chain integrity needs focus right away,” Burrill explained. “We have a 2nd wave of patients returning to healthcare – those who had to postpone their treatments – and they are going to continue to put pressure on supplies.”

Let’s hope supply chain challenges don’t limit the ability to treat those patients.

Cashflow and Working Capital

Elective procedures are the financial backbone of many healthcare organizations and can account for as much as 80% of revenues. Because of COVID-19, most of these procedures had to be postponed which has put many organizations under financial strain.

“First, I have to say that ‘elective’ is not a great way to describe these procedures,” said Burrill. “These aren’t all people who chose to have a surgery as a matter of preference. Rather, ‘elective’ just means that the need for surgery isn’t life threatening. Many of these surgeries are incredibly necessary for these patients, and they’ve had to wait.”

These delayed surgeries have shone a light on the cashflow and working capital needs of healthcare organizations. Burrill strongly recommends that healthcare leaders shore up their financial situation by looking into the various government relief funds and other funding sources.

What’s next

Let’s be honest, most of the focus during the pandemic has been on telehealth, screening and testing. Almost all other health technologies have faded into the background. In his role at Deloitte, Burrill works with a wide range healthcare, technology and business leaders. Because of that, he has a unique perspective on the industry. I asked Burrill what technologies aren’t in the spotlight now, but will be in the months ahead.

“There are three technologies that I’m keeping my eye on,” Burrill answered. “Interoperability, ERP for health systems and CRM for plans.”

  1. Interoperability will return as a topic of discussion. It remains a critical challenge for healthcare and enhancing our ability to share information is even more important now.
  2. ERP for health systems. A decade of focus on EHRs has meant that other back-office functions have languished. This particularly true of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Hospitals need to move to cloud-based ERP systems to keep up with the needs of modern enterprises. We cannot continue to operate on legacy ERP systems.
  3. CRM for plans. We are becoming much more consumer oriented in healthcare. Plans need better ways to connect with their members. CRM systems provide the necessary infrastructure to bring plans closer with members.

For more information about Deloitte, visit their website

This article is part of the #HealthIT100in100

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About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.