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COVID-19 the Healthcare Industry

Aayush Lahoti

11th October 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has had significant adverse effects on nearly every industry and workplace imaginable. The numbers show this clearly, as according to eConsultancy, 67% of enterprise businesses have changed customer policies as a result of the outbreak. Healthcare providers are not looked after industry, confirmed a professor of medicine currently practising in Mumbai. And perhaps that is for a good reason, we need healthcare now more than ever, and it seems counter-intuitive for medical industries themselves to face problems during a pandemic. Based on supply and demand, this should be open season for the medical companies, right? Well, not quite.

A pre-op room in Francisco Àvia, Hospital (Source: Flickr cc)

The unprecedented scale of infection caused by Covid has been disrupting the work of many hospitals. According to the CDC, the percentage of beds available in the US is at just 20 percent. With the worst states being even worse off. A hospital needs thousands of materials and equipment to keep functioning, and obtaining these materials is now more complicated and time-consuming due to the precautions taken while transporting them. Furthermore, management of coronavirus patients is a complicated affair, requiring near-constant observation and possibly specialised intensive care equipment (in severe cases), according to the CDC guidelines on in-patient care procedures. This procedure, on its own, may seem relatively simple, but the sheer volume of people infected are liable to overwhelm many hospitals. Indeed, government hospitals are suffering from a lack of beds to house all the incoming patients, while the private hospitals are having to charge greater and greater amounts due to the immense demand and their standard of care, said one high ranking medical administrator.

The problems caused by Covid, however, go further than that because several fields in medicine have been affected by the pandemic. Financially vital areas like medical tourism, cosmetic surgery, even psychological treatment and general pathology have been declining due to the inherent dangers of being in contact with the sick during these times. The ethical guidelines laid out by the APA (American Psychological Association) state that therapists must discourage patients from visitation unless necessary. This has been especially problematic in countries like the US, where a large number of privatisation of hospitals take place, and healthcare accounts for over 17% of the national budget.

There has been an argument made that lesser numbers of people getting sick or injured in conventional ways is a good thing. And there is undoubtedly some instinctive truth to that. However, if we look at the situation from purely economic and practical perspectives, this lack of financial growth can be extremely detrimental for several healthcare providers. Consider the example of Alecto Healthcare, which permanently closed down 2 of its branches in West Virginia in late March, according to the Times West Virginian, just as the Covid situation became widely known. Or the deal, as reported by the BBC, that the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) had made with all private institutes in the country, giving it access to a majority of their equipment and beds at cost-price to help the millions of patients during the pandemic. These actions are perhaps necessary for the public good. However, they are still damaging to the healthcare institutes that now have to pay all of their considerable running costs with significantly fewer potential means to stay in the black.

Another aspect of current healthcare that we need to consider is ‘what happens next?’ Because history shows that pandemics do not truly end when a cure is discovered, they end when a stable socio-economic system is re-established in the affected society. Specifically for Covid, because it has affected nearly every country on earth, a road back to normality may be a long one. Economists, healthcare specialists and legislators have theorised about medical care in a post-Covid world, with the consensus that a focus would have to be on making it more robust in developed countries, and more accessible everywhere else. These lofty goals would have to be achieved under more significant financial strain as nations attempt to get back on track, leading some to fear that healthcare may be rendered weaker and relatively ineffective for some time after coronavirus ends. However, these problems are not considered a priority right now, with healthcare professionals focused instead on dealing with the coronavirus to the best of their ability. Several actions have been taken by hospitals, both private and state-owned, to face the challenges of this pandemic.

As mentioned before, the management of Covid patients (in general) is personnel intensive, requiring nursing staff and residents to maintain medication and observation of the at-risk individuals. Naturally, making sure that these individuals are not themselves exposed to the virus is a top priority for any good institute. To this end, the staff is required to observe stringent pre- and post-shift measures, including pulse-ox tests, rigorous hand-washing, full PPE kits (depending on the procedure), etc. Considerable thought has also been given to the mental well-being of these individuals as they must be discouraged from becoming complacent. As such, many institutes mandate a set number of days be sent in quarantine away from work after a long time on call. The efforts of these men and women have garnered much appreciation in most countries of the world, though of course, India remains lacking in the decent work environment for doctors and their staff. Reports of assault and battery continue to come in even as these professionals continue to work during the pandemic.

All in all, the road ahead does not appear to be an easy one for the world at large. And even as we depend on our healthcare systems during these trying times, we must also be aware of the situations they are facing due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

News Sources: Times West Virginian, eConsultancy

Edited by Sana Khanam

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