COVID-19 has spurred rapid transformation in health care. Let’s make sure it stays that way
There is no doubt that the year 2020 has evolved in ways none of us could have imagined. The uncertainty of living with COVID-19 has called everything into question—how we work, seek health care, learn, shop, travel, and connect with each other.
During a crisis, it’s natural to look at the past with nostalgia and focus on the short term. However, the situation the world now faces requires cross-sector, future-focused innovation and provides opportunities to make transformation happen much more quickly.
Until there is a definitive therapy or vaccine for COVID-19, we must adapt to the virus—it won’t adapt to us. Therefore, industry leaders must empower creative problem-solving among staff to develop innovative methods of doing business that truly meet the new needs of customers today. Here are three ways we’re using the pandemic as a springboard to reshape health care.
Leaving the past behind
The pandemic highlighted many longstanding systemic flaws in the health care system, including fragmentation, inaccessibility, high costs, and health outcome disparities. We should not pine for a past that was so far from perfect, let alone plan a return trip.
Instead, we must seize the disruptive force of the pandemic to do the transformational work necessary to address these chronic issues and create a future that’s better for our patients. COVID-19 has given us an unexpected jump-start toward this goal.
Regulatory changes at the onset of the pandemic—many of which need to be made permanent—provided new opportunities for delivering virtual care. With this enabler, we accelerated our digital plans several-fold while ensuring safety, privacy, and optimal outcomes.
For example, our critical care specialists in Minnesota used eICU remote monitoring technology to support staff and patients at a New York City hospital during the height of the city’s surge, doing virtual rounds with the New York City medical staff, helping manage patient medications and ventilators, and freeing up doctors in the hospital to care for more patients. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the power we have to transform—not simply evolve—and we must seize opportunities to streamline regulatory processes and decision-making before the crisis abates.
Building barriers to maintain gains
Every organization wants to remove barriers when it seeks to execute a new direction or strategic plan. But that’s not enough. We actually need to create barriers to regression to the status quo. Most organizations are like stretched rubber bands, snapping back immediately back to normal once the tension is gone. It’s a leader’s job to stop that from happening—to reinforce the new state and purposely make it harder to go back.
Mayo Clinic is deliberately countering backsliding into a mostly in-person care model by establishing a minimum number of virtual patient visits for each department every week. At the same time, we’re carefully resisting the rush to eradicate traditional care models outright. That would overstretch and break the rubber band.
Instead, we’re merging the old and the new into a spectrum of options, allowing them to collide and coexist as long as they meet the needs of patients and allow us to advance toward an optimal state of functioning.
Seeking partners with different, yet complementary, skills
While the pandemic has had a significant impact on revenue, retreating from innovation is not an option. In fact, we have to double down on investment in research and development and empower people to innovate through nontraditional collaboration. In an increasingly complex and interdependent world, much more can be accomplished by working with partners who have different, yet complementary, skills.
The coronavirus pandemic has confirmed this for us. Partners with whom we were not aligned simply stopped collaborating with us. Partners with skills that significantly overlapped with ours turned inward to manage the same issues we faced. However, partners with similar values, but different skill sets, markedly accelerated their work with us.
Response times shortened vastly as Mayo Clinic and these partners focused on an immediate shared goal. We cooperated to solve complex problems simultaneously rather than one at a time.
Our partnership with Google, for instance, has given us the technology and data security expertise that have formed the cornerstone of our digital transformation efforts. Our collaboration with nference, an augmented intelligence company, has shown that prior influenza and measles immunization provides partial protection against COVID-19, and we’re working with the company over the long term to identify new cures for patients with rare diseases. Our alliance with Medically Home has powered our new advanced home care model, which launched 14 months earlier than planned and allows some patients to receive hospital-level care at home in the middle of a pandemic. Collaborations with government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration also have flourished, confirming the idea that having partners with shared values and different skills trumps traditional relationships in times of crisis.
The pandemic’s disruptive force has spurred transformational change in our organization, as well as in many others. We must actively resist a return to the old way of doing things, maintain the improvements we’ve made, and continue to invest in research and strategic collaborations that will produce a health care system that serves everyone better.
Gianrico Farrugia is president and CEO of Mayo Clinic.