It is well known that wars and conflicts negatively impact world economies. The GDP shrinks; investor confidence is shaken; inflation increases and the consumer confidence index heads southward. All the business establishments except the defense industry suffer. Is there a parallel to this in the medical industry? Are there lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the medical establishment?
The government’s involvement and interference in the affairs of the hospitals in response to the public health catastrophe added to the complexity. Mandatory reservation of a big proportion of the beds for the affected patients may be the right response; but it does disturb the economic homeostasis.
There are the not so evident, more subtle effects. The public’s faith in the healthcare system (in this case, the private healthcare organizations) has been shaken. This is akin to the population losing confidence in the banking system due to some event resulting in a run on the bank. There is a two-fold negative impression. Firstly, that the HCO is not a safe place. And, secondly there is a disappointment that the hospital was not able to cater to the basic needs when most needed. The reasons may be real; but impressions are hard to erase.
It is important to pay attention to some of the imperatives:
Keep the services going! When the common man needs the services the most, he must find its doors open. It is just like the neighborhood provision shop; if it is not functional for a significant period of time, alternative avenues will be sought. Once the alternatives are found, and the person is relatively accustomed to the new discovery in a similar service provider, allegiance shifts. A barber’s shop which is found closed on a few consecutive days, may force the person who came there regularly, to give up on the shop and purchase a hair trimmer and be weaned off the barber’s services for good; and
The reality of human suffering. During the recent pandemic, disadvantaged communities suddenly found themselves at the end of their tether. When there was a response from any source, there was much gratitude and loyalty, which will not be easy to erase.
Experience of Bangalore Baptist Hospital and the outreach work in the slums and villages around.
Medicine to the doorstep. Chronic illnesses were neglected during the early lockdown period. The villagers were not able to seek out and access medicines. Chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes were neglected. There was an inordinate increase in the complication rates. The simple measure of the provision of the health worker reaching the community, doing a simple BP check or a sugar test (by prick method) and providing the services at an affordable cost and the regular medicines, made a big difference. The entire communities became ‘attached’ to the healthcare provider who cared enough to seek them out in their time of need.
Keeping the services open. When other service providers in the surrounding areas shut their services temporarily, there was continuity of services being offered. Very little is truly unimportant or postpone-able when it comes to medical needs. (except for conditions like cosmetic surgery and the like). The emotional capital gained at this time has much greater value and is likely to last longer.
The fact of being able to give meaningful service, in turn receiving recognition and gratitude from the community is a positive morale-booster for the staff. Cohesiveness of the provider community receives a fillip.
In conclusion, I would submit that the healthcare providers should not let go the opportunities that a crisis, like the pandemic offers. The positive measures and contributions during this time are likely to result in a major gain of an emotional capital… it is the right thing to do… it gives great satisfaction. It may be challenge one is not equal to; nevertheless, it is an opportunity and an invitation to deliver when it matters the most.