COVID-19 has exposed some of the major flaws of the U.S. healthcare system but also brought some unexpected benefits and useful lessons on how to improve the level of care Americans receive. That's the view of a panel of health experts that took part in Investopedia's "Your Money Your Health" virtual conference, which took place on Sept. 21, 2021.
The third and fourth panels of the event, which focused on the future of care from the patient perspective and healthcare access, offered both hope and concerns on the future state of a U.S. healthcare system often characterized as inefficient, unaffordable, unsustainable, and discriminating.
- Panelists at Investopedia's "Your Money Your Health" virtual conference discussed the impact of the pandemic on the U.S. healthcare system.
- While COVID-19 exposed healthcare inefficiencies, it also provided useful lessons, such as demonstrating the viability of telemedicine.
- The supply chain constraints affecting numerous sectors are leading to shortages for medical devices.
During the third panel, James L. Madara, the CEO and executive vice president of the American Medical Association, the nation's largest physician organization, pointed to a study released just before the pandemic by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The global assessment of pandemic risk concluded that the United States, out of 195 countries, was best positioned to weather a pandemic. "It turned out not to be that way at all," said Madara.
"If you look at the 40 or so [criteria from the study] where we didn't do well, it was access, socioeconomic resilience, the split between the wealthy and poor in this country, the culture of vaccination in this country, and then also some political risk to our system," said Madara. "When we look at this overall, we realize that those four things that we scored poorly on is really what dinged us during this pandemic."
Fellow special guest James Merlino, chief clinical transformation officer at Cleveland Clinic, agreed with Madara that misinformation and the lack of a consistent message has been a major issue over the past 18 months. However, he added that the healthcare system will learn from the multitude of problems aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which could help improve health services in the future.
Your Money Your Health Conference: Paying for It - The Future of Care from the Patient Perspective
"There are a lot of lessons that are going to be learned when the pandemic, we hope, is finally over," said Merlino. "But one of the things that I think is true is that heath care found its agility during the pandemic because we've needed to respond to the needs of patients. As we've clamped down on visiting hours, as we've restricted certain access to services, we've recognized that doesn't mean we can't stop delivering the care, we can't stop building the human connection, so we had to find ways to adapt, and we had to do it quickly."
Merlino added: "We should be optimistic about the future of care, and we’'e learned some lessons, or are learning lessons in the pandemic. Number one: our care givers, regardless of their profession … are incredibly resilient, and that should give us comfort that our people are out there everyday on the front lines taking care of really sick people as we manage this. Secondly, innovation is alive and well, and if anything, innovation has been accelerated during the pandemic. We are doing things that we didn't think were possible."
Validation for Telemedicine
One area that has benefited in particular is telemedicine. Melynda Barnes, chief medical officer at patient-driven telehealth company Ro, and Haesue Jo, head of clinical operations for BetterHelp, an online portal that provides direct-to-consumer access to mental health services, both celebrated the fact that the pandemic led people to accept online medical health care as a viable option.
"Before the pandemic, there was some hesitation around telemedicine and telehealth and whether or not quality of care could be upheld if you were seeing patients predominately through a digital or virtual media," said Barnes. "That has been dispelled and proven false many times over. What the last 18 months has done for technology has really pulled the future forward. Now that a lot of people have actually experienced telemedicine on both sides, providers and patients, there is a huge amount of enthusiasm and support behind telemedicine."
Barnes listed the number of benefits that telemedicine brings, arguing, among other things, that it can help to eradicate the issue of health equity, boost efficiency, and essentially make healthcare more accessible to everyone. "You can talk to your doctor whenever you like on our platform," she said. "You no longer need to wait for that one visit and come in with your laundry list of concerns."
Jo, too, believes the adoption of telemedicine marks a welcome change. "There's so many issues, especially in this country when it comes to access to health care because of costs, because of absence of transportation, because of health literacy … there are demands and significant needs for changes," Jo said. "Telemedicine has made it so that people can continue to access care. It also has the side-effect of leaving some spaces in urgent care and ERs for folks that really need to see somebody in person."
Medical Device Supply Shortages
One issue that isn't likely going to go away anytime soon, though, is supply shortages for medical devices. Erik Anderson, president of global services at Hologic, a medical technology company primarily focused on women's health, warned that the supply chain constraints rocking numerous sectors is also proving challenging to healthcare. Based on his estimations, there will be continued delays to source important components until roughly mid-way through 2023.
"It's a massive labyrinth … of making sure we have the right parts at the right time, and that's the same for any medical device provider—whether it's something for surgery or something for the lab or the imaging center—it's a huge focus."