Writing exclusively for Health Tech World, the global chief medical officer and SVP at Philips shares his views on the lasting changes COVID-19 will leave behind for the next generation of healthcare professionals.
As the COVID-19 pandemic escalated earlier this year, my first reaction was concern for the people suffering from this terrible disease, and how to save the lives of those affected.
However, as time went on, it became obvious that COVID-19 was affecting the lives of more people than just those infected, with many more suffering from delayed appointments, surgeries and deferments to other kinds of care.
As the deaths mounted, and I heard more stories of personal loss and hardship, I realized the true impact this virus was having on the healthcare system.
Against this backdrop, I thought of the younger generation of healthcare professionals: those who are at the start of their careers, having only joined their hospital’s staff weeks or months ago, and now facing immense physical, emotional and social pressures at work. I’ve worked in a hospital as a pediatrician, so I appreciate these pressures.
During the years I’ve mentored this younger generation of healthcare professionals, they’ve often confided in me about difficult times on the job, worn down by high caseloads, drowning in data and burdened by administrative chores. And those were in so-called ‘normal’ times.
It makes you wonder: how will these already overworked and burnt out healthcare professionals cope?
At Philips, we understand that as a leading healthcare technology provider we have a duty to help tackle the pandemic. In order to better understand how COVID-19 is changing healthcare , we commissioned new Future Health Index research which surveyed hundreds of younger doctors, asking them about their perceptions and experiences in recent months.
We summarise their responses in our latest report, Future Health Index Insights: COVID-19 and younger healthcare professionals.
What we found was some welcome news: the pandemic has not led to a dramatic increase in younger doctors wanting to leave medicine.
Quite the opposite, in fact. A quarter (25%) of younger doctors reported a greater level of satisfaction at work, and more than one-third (39%) reported a deeper feeling of purpose at work as a result of their work during the pandemic.
I have nothing but admiration and a deep feeling of gratitude when considering these responses. They show the commitment of our younger doctors to the care of their patients, even in the most challenging times.
There are many more findings from the new FHI Insights research relevant to healthcare leaders, so let’s take a closer look.
Facing the challenge head on
When we published our our global report, Future Health Index 2020: The age of opportunity in March this year, we found that around one-third (34%) of younger healthcare professionals have considered leaving the profession due to work-related stress.
Naturally this gave me cause for concern in light of the pandemic, but our new FHI Insights survey reveals impressive resilience on the part of younger doctors, with only 9% saying that they are more likely to leave medicine.
Most said that their experiences during the pandemic had no impact on their likelihood to stay in or leave medicine (53%) and over one-third (38%) said they are even more likely to stay in medicine.
I don’t want to minimize the unprecedented obstacles and difficulties the past few months have presented for the entire healthcare sector.
While caring for extremely sick and dying patients infected with COVID-19, many young doctors and nurses have risked – and even lost – their lives while answering the call of their vocation.
But there are lessons that can be learned from this experience, about better and smarter ways of working to improve the experience of younger healthcare professionals on the job, as well as the experience of the patients they are caring for.
Making new ways of working permanent
Back in March, we asked younger healthcare professionals what they look for when considering a new place to work, and they said they would prioritise settings that were collaborative, digitally enabled and flexible. COVID-19 has forced new ways of working, and improvements in each of these areas.
As healthcare leaders look further ahead, it will be important to consider how best to preserve these positive changes.
In our new FHI Insights research, nearly half of all younger doctors said they experienced increased collaboration with colleagues across skill sets (44%) and increased exposure to new ways of using digital health technologies (44%), reporting these as positive changes to their working lives.
Virtual care technologies such as telehealth have played a particularly prominent role during the COVID-19 pandemic, with online consultations and virtual ICUs rapidly becoming the norm.
Philips, for example, has made available a dedicated scalable telehealth application that facilitates the use of online patient screening and monitoring and is supported by existing call centers.
The application aims to prevent unnecessary visits to general practitioners and hospitals by remotely monitoring the vast majority of COVID-19 patients who are quarantined at home.
Another key area we are working on to improve is data sharing. In the Netherlands we have partnered with Erasmus Medical Center, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, and the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport to create an online portal that allows Dutch hospitals to share COVID-19 patient information with one another, making patient data easily and securely transferred via the cloud from one hospital to another.
Being able to do this at the touch of a button is important to optimizing the use of healthcare resources.
Since its launch on March 28, 95% of Dutch hospitals have already connected to the portal, a process that would have taken years to achieve prior to the pandemic.
Building back better
Looking at the results of our new FHI Insights survey and all that has been achieved since the start of the pandemic back in March, I’m optimistic that we can use the experiences of COVID-19 to build a better future for healthcare. We must ensure that working environments built on flexibility, collaboration, optimized technology and data sharing are permanent legacies of the pandemic.
By supporting these goals, we’ll keep a generation of younger healthcare professionals more committed and engaged in their work, whatever the future holds for them.
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