Post COVID-19: Will a remote workforce become the new normal for healthcare?

March 30, 2020
Author: Dustin Leek
Blog | Digital Workspace

During this time of uncertainty many healthcare professionals are appropriately focused on an endless list of things we have to do before our healthcare systems are hit with the full force of COVID-19. While we can and throughout the entire pandemic, I encourage everyone to take time to focus on things that are going well and can be leveraged in the future. 

Having spent 15 years in healthcare IT operational / strategic roles and now time with healthcare executive customers, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how healthcare organizations across the country respond to natural disasters and, in this case, a global pandemic. One question that keeps coming to mind is “Why is it always a fire drill, when healthcare organizations decide to send non-clinical employees home to work?”

Most of my 15 years of healthcare IT leadership were spent working for healthcare organizations in Florida, so I’ve seen my fair share of hurricanes. While we were always clinically prepared for the hurricane, we would still struggle with what to do with essential, but non-clinical employees. I recognize there are significant differences between a global pandemic and a hurricane, but argue there are similarities in the non-clinical response from healthcare organizations. In each case, the primary focus of healthcare organizations is to provide uninterrupted care for patients, protection for our employees and to return to normal operation as quickly and safely as possible.  Shifting Patient Financial Services, HR, Finance and Accounting, Patient Registration, etc. to work from home or remote work is always considered and often selected as the solution to protecting our employees and providing continuity of operations. After the event, we begin to return to normal operations, but what if we changed the definition of “normal operations” by leaving those remote workers…remote?

There are many reasons to consider making this the new normal, but two stand out:

  1. When the next natural disaster / pandemic hits, healthcare organizations will not have to figure out what to do with non-clinical employees since they will already be working from home. Instead, they will be able to immediately focus ALL of their efforts on the clinical response.
  2. Physical space is at a premium in healthcare organizations across the globe. Leaving these employees at home would create opportunity to turn non-revenue generating space into much needed revenue generating space. Many of these offices and buildings can be converted in to Ambulatory care spaces with relative ease. In the cases where buildings are leased, the positive impact would certainly be seen on the balance sheet.

So…why haven’t we done this already?

  1. It’s the way we’ve always done it. Healthcare has traditionally been a face to face workforce. The majority of care is still delivered in a face to face fashion and often this approach to work is adopted by the entire organization without thought. It just happens over time.
  2. HIPAA / Privacy concerns are always cited and MUST be considered when employees work with patient health information (PHI) in any location. With that said, clinicians have been providing remote care for years under the same HIPAA / privacy concerns.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations should take advantage of the opportunity to scrutinize what works and what doesn’t with regard to their current implementation of non-clinical work from home employees. Post COVID-19, healthcare organizations should seriously consider why those employees need to return to the office.

If HIPAA / Privacy concerns are a “perceived” roadblock, consider this fact – For years, doctors and nurses have been documenting from home, using telephones and video to treat patients remotely and, in many cases, monitoring ICU patients remotely.

Ask yourselves why clinicians have adopted remote technologies at a faster pace than their back-office counterparts and then solve for those differences. The result will be a nimble, resilient, patient focused healthcare organization!

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