Whether you admit it or not, life is not only changing amid the current coronavirus pandemic, but life and business will likely change permanently post-coronavirus too. How will coronavirus impact business? What could it mean for healthcare? As someone involved in healthcare, technology, and in particular, elderly care, here are a few thoughts to mull over, with an emphasis on healthcare.
Reassessing Direct Contact with People vs. Remote Communication
The comfort we usually feel being in direct contact with other people may change. For many of us, we may end up being more comfortable with not being with them. Instead of thinking about whether to do something on the internet, many people may ask, “Do I really need to see him/her — in person?” Even if we get past the coronavirus, people’s minds may become hard-wired to think in terms of avoiding people more routinely, rather than seeking them out.
The implications for all industries and all companies — whether big or small — are significant. Much more customer service will take place online, even though it is fairly high today.
People may prefer in even bigger numbers to do “takeout” food instead of dining at a restaurant. And, in my industry — healthcare — the implications are going to be enormous. People may be afraid to go to the doctor’s office or the hospital because they’re worried about getting infected by other people. Even how doctors and nurses care for patients in hospitals and clinics may change significantly with robots and remote care becoming much more prominent. As a result of coronavirus, we are likely to see more technology that both protects patients while improving patient outcomes. One upside of the coronavirus may be that we’ll see more innovation to protect people both in how they interact with their doctors and how they access healthcare facilities.
Health Awareness will Increase, Particularly for Infectious Diseases
Few things make you realize that your health may be in danger than when your federal or local government tells you that you must “shelter at home” for two weeks, a month, or even longer, only being allowed to go out to purchase food.
When you’re told that getting too close to other people may mean you’ll get a virus for which there is currently no cure, it does make you stop and think. Unfortunately, many people do not take their health seriously on a day-to-day basis. This will likely change in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
While countries and organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) spend a lot of resources on infectious diseases, the average person doesn’t pay much attention to these efforts. This pandemic changes everything.
Now that millions of people are suffering physically or mentally through a pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed 50 million people, we will now pay attention.
People will come to realize that what happens in China or elsewhere can affect their lives, even being many thousands of miles away. People will come to realize that being prepared for the next pandemic is something they should do. In fact, they will come to realize that these so-called “crazy doomsday preppers” are not so crazy after all.
This coronavirus pandemic will also impact everyone’s relationship with healthcare providers, including their doctors, hospitals, and clinics. We’ll see much more interest in how providers are protecting people from infectious diseases, and as a result, all healthcare providers will have to improve their practices, particularly in times of crisis.
Many countries will have to reassess how their national governments, local governments, healthcare providers, and healthcare staff work together to respond to the next pandemic. The fact is, many countries do not have well thought out plans for the crisis we face today. This has led to more deaths, and people are coming to understand how poorly some countries have planned for this event, even wealthy western countries. This must change and citizens will demand it.
Telemedicine Will Finally Skyrocket
In many countries, doctor-patient interaction via mobile phones and computers, called “telemedicine,” will take off. Telemedicine has been around for decades but the rate of adoption has been relatively slow until recently.
Historically, people have preferred in-person consultations with their doctors, and many simply don’t trust or know how to use such technology. In addition, many governments have strict rules surrounding the use of telemedicine, with only certain types of medical issues being allowed for remote consultations. This will change given the fear people may have going to doctor’s offices or hospitals.
Telemedicine also helps to limit the traffic to hospitals, particularly in times of crisis. People may want to avoid traveling and will want to stay away from other patients as the coronavirus permanently enters people’s psyche.
Remote Monitoring of Patients, Particularly the Elderly, Will Grow Exponentially
Remote monitoring involves a bit of technology but it is a fairly basic concept that is likely to grow. In its simplest form, it’s about monitoring the condition of patients from a remote location using sensors, cameras and other technologies.
A combination of devices allows for the measurement of several health metrics like blood pressure, temperature, and blood sugar several times a day. The results are stored on the cloud, from which doctors and nurses receive alerts if any readings are found to be abnormal. In addition, remote monitoring can keep track of a patient’s whereabouts, if they have fallen, and if they appear to need emergency assistance. This is particularly useful for older people and people with dementia. Some technologies can even detect if a caregiver has washed his or her hands, an important matter in the age of coronavirus.
Remote monitoring can take the burden off the healthcare professionals who may only need to visit a patient to conduct nursing procedures or to address other routine matters. It’s also useful in cases where a patient does not need around-the-clock caregiving but allows health professionals to kick into action as patient conditions warrant quickly.
Obviously, with viruses like COVID-19 being of significant concern, remote monitoring allows care to proceed without further endangering the health of the patient or nurses and caregivers through the transmission of a virus.
Remote Monitoring is not a substitute for physical caregiving that is often required for severely ill or bed-bound patients. Still, it can fill in the gaps in care and ensure round-the-clock monitoring where actual physical activity is not required at all times. Most importantly, remote monitoring can keep patients who really don’t need intensive physical care, out of hospitals in times of pandemic. Expect to see more widespread use of remote monitoring.
Family Care and In-Home Caregiving May Change
One of the outcomes of the coronavirus is that people have realized how important it is to look after the family, particularly the elderly. In times of crisis, people are finding that they cannot rely on their government, such as social services and other government agencies, to help them.
Major gaps in many countries’ healthcare systems are being revealed more prominently than ever, and these gaps impact the elderly disproportionately. This crisis may finally put the focus on how we address the “elderly tsunami,” the millions of people around the world who need care in their golden years, cannot afford private care, and where there are few resources from the government. It’s time that governments wake up and finally figure out how to address the significant strain and unmet needs families have in caring for their elderly.
We will need public/private partnerships that allow less costly care at home and in nursing homes. We’ll need the ability for children to stay at home to care for their older loved ones while limiting the impact on their career progression. These are indeed difficult challenges, but we must address, or much of our healthcare system may come crashing down.
Workplaces Will be Better Protected
For some time to come, employees may be hesitant about going back to their offices, post-lockdown, even if local officials and their management say it is okay to do so. Staff may fear the “invisible unknown” and will want assurances that they are working in a safe environment. But safety in the workplace could go much further. Companies, office building management, developers, local regulators, and others will need to re-think how buildings and office spaces are designed and managed to thwart the spread of another outbreak.
Just as we increasingly have to go through health screenings such as temperature checks, and be subjected to health and “prior-travel questions” at airports, we will likely see similar precautions and procedures as we enter office buildings. We may even see companies and building management go as far as collecting information on who enters buildings using sensors and infrared cameras in order to conduct risk assessments.
Inside company offices, we’ll likely see more attention paid to indoor air quality as companies realize that better air can lead to gains in productivity and help mitigate people from getting sick.
The Nursing Home Industry Faces a Grim Reality
We will likely see an emphasis on how to protect nursing homes during times of pandemic better, and even when there is not one. As we have seen in Washington state and elsewhere, nursing homes have become a focal point of outbreaks and spread of the coronavirus.
Nursing homes are usually densely packed with elderly residents and people with terminal diseases, many of whom share a room or are being cared for in hospital-type wards where Infection and respiratory issues are common.
“The grim reality is that, for the elderly, COVID-19 is an almost perfect killing machine.”Mark Parkinson, president, and CEO of the American Health Care Association (AHCA)
In the United States, around 40% of nursing homes had at least one deficiency mark related to the control of infectious disease in 2017, according to a Kaiser Foundation study. Surveillance work has shown that many nursing home workers do not practice proper hygiene.
The unfortunate fact is that nursing homes do not have all of the resources that hospitals have and use daily. In most cases, nursing homes are not even required to have the same amount of infection controls, training, oversight of their facilities, or operating procedures. Expect to see significant changes in this industry going forward.
Businesses Will Need to Upgrade Emergency Preparedness
While many companies were caught off-guard as a result of the coronavirus and suffered the financial consequences, we also see that many companies were not well-prepared to deal with the crisis from an operational and safety perspective.
Many companies have plans to deal with natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires, floods, and snowstorms. Still, few companies have plans to address infectious diseases among their staff or customers and the resulting business disruption.
This will change as companies come to grips with the obvious fact that pandemics are the most disruptive external threat to their businesses. Wholesale changes will occur as companies address their operations, customer service, communications, and public relations in order to be more prepared for the next crisis — and employees, customers, and other stakeholders will demand it.
That Priority Airline Seat May be a Thing of the Past
Business travel is the lifeblood of airlines, earning them top-dollar for filling those seats at the front of the cabin. However, we may learn that in a post-coronavirus world, traveling for business may not be as vital as it once was. Business people place a premium on face-to-face relationships, but will executives view their business connections differently in the future? Will they more seriously question whether they really need to make that trip?
With employees relying more and more on Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, and other communication technologies, we may quickly learn that business travel isn’t as necessary as we once thought it was. At the same time, companies may happily discover that the cost savings from eliminating many trips do not result in a negative impact on their businesses.
Supply Chains Will Be Viewed Differently
Globalization has been good for many businesses. It’s meant easy access to cheaper goods from abroad, often used in conjunction with “just-in-time” practices, which has meant more efficiencies and better supply chain management. Today, we are seeing supply chains slowing or even cut off due to travel restrictions, and many cities and even entire countries, are on “lockdowns” to stop the spread of coronavirus.
This has wreaked havoc with supplies in many industries around the world, especially those relying on China. Supply chain managers will likely become much more conservative in the future, unwilling to rely on supply from far away lands or work with just a few suppliers. They will build broader supply chains, even within their own countries or regions.
Changes in supply chains may cost companies more money, but it may be worth the price to keep the necessary supplies flowing.
The Flow of Labor May Never Be the Same Again
Millions of people around the world cross borders to go to work each day, or they live in other countries because they cannot get good-paying jobs in their home countries. On any given day, about 350,000 people cross the Causeway between Malaysia and Singapore, many of them being Malaysians who are going to work in Singapore. Over 400,000 people from Eastern Europe — mostly from Poland, Slovakia, and Romania — work in Germany and Austria as caregivers in private homes. Estimates are that at least 200,000 Filipinos live and work in Malaysia, many of whom are domestic workers and caregivers.
Keeping foreign, low-cost labor flowing, often as maids, caregivers, farmhands, and construction workers is the underpinning of many successful service-economies. In fact, some services, particularly home caregiving, would hardly be possible without foreign labor. Locals generally don’t want to be caregivers, and if they do, the locally-provided service often costs much more than most people can afford.
While foreign labor has been utilized for many years, throughout history societies have responded to plagues and pandemics by blaming immigrants and minorities, and we’re seeing some of that today. As a result of more restrictive immigration policies, we could witness a massive shortage of health care workers, especially those involved in caregiving, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.
Countries will be more hesitant to allow continued immigration out of fear that these workers may bring diseases from their home countries. In the U.S., for example, about one-quarter of nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides are immigrants, and it’s even higher in other countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.
Without these workers, these industries could collapse, and finding care may become more difficult for the most vulnerable in society — those with long-term diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and the elderly.
Even in the absence of the coronavirus, many countries have been struggling for decades because even foreign workers aren’t enough to fill the gap between demand and supply. In our new reality, nations will be required to put serious effort into recruiting thousands of local maids, healthcare workers, and caregivers, and then they’ll need to train them, and pay them fair wages. This will be a severe challenge for many countries, particularly for those countries seeing fast-growing numbers of elderly citizens.
Companies Will Realize the Importance of Having a “Rainy Day” Fund
While the coronavirus pandemic is truly an existential crisis, it took employees and companies alike off guard. Even huge companies with many assets and billions of dollars in the bank see their revenues nosedive, some to almost zero, and even their billions are not enough to survive for several months.
Some of these big companies will get low-cost loans and grants from their governments. Many smaller companies will get nothing and, sadly, will go out of business. While a total drop-off in business due to a crisis like a coronavirus is not the fault of companies, many companies have done a poor job of planning for business disruption as we are seeing in many countries today. Some companies simply lived from month to month on their revenues and debt while still others made poor financial choices, mainly pushed by investors to keep the value of their stock high.
The airline industry is a good example. In the U.S., quite a few airlines bought back their stock, spending billions of dollars to pump up their stock price and to provide short-term gains to investors. Unfortunately, the pull between taking care of airline company investors and taking care of customers and employees had led some airlines to a precarious situation.
There will be only so many times that their governments will bail them out. It’s time for companies to think seriously about how to keep much more cash in the bank to avoid the situation they face today. So, rather than being disincentivized by investors to keep more cash, that must and will change.
Companies, like airlines, cannot keep buying back stock, paying their top executives thousands of times their employees and demanding huge bonuses and stock options if they are not saving more money and making prudent financial decisions. Activist investors, unions, and even customers will demand they do a better job — and they’ll have to if they want to survive a future crisis.
Working Remotely Will Become Commonplace
While more and more companies are allowing people to work at home, on a tropical island, or elsewhere, quite a few companies have still not embraced this concept. Whether it’s a lack of trust between employers and employees, or simply that companies wish to maintain control over their staff, highly qualified workers may demand it, and employers may have no choice but to allow it for many more types of jobs.
The fact is, downloading a few apps and getting permission from the boss may be the only thing standing between an employee and remote work. As many people will realize, Slack, Skype, email, Facetime, WhatsApp, and other apps will be how many of us work. It will be harder for companies to deny remote work, particularly for those employees who believe — right or wrong — that “social distancing” is their new way of life.
Virtual Reality (V.R.) May Take Off
Virtual Reality or V.R. is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike more traditional user interfaces like computer screens, V.R. places the user inside an experience. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are completely immersed in a world of sights, sounds, and even smells, and are able to interact in these 3D worlds.
Most people are not familiar with V.R.’s application to real-life and see it mainly as a “game.” However, with millions of people being quarantined and isolated, it’s now possible that we can put students in classrooms using V.R., or people can become part of the audience at a rock concert without ever leaving home.
The application of this technology is endless. Helping people not feel isolated or alone has enormous potential, particularly for mental health, and V.R. may be an answer for many people who wish to experience the world, but from a safe distance.
Regulations Could Become More Relaxed for Online Activities
As we move online to an even greater extent, it’s likely that rules governing online businesses, particularly in my profession, healthcare, will be relaxed. Customers will demand it, and governments will have to give in.
Billions of people around the world use Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype, other consumer apps for business calls and meetings, and it’s likely we’ll see more consumer-oriented technologies adapted for medical interactions. It’s already being done, often in a grey area that isn’t entirely legal, and it will grow. However, if doctors, hospitals, and clinics want to serve more patients online, they will need to use the technologies most people use — and governments will need to let them do so.
Life and business will indeed change for everyone on the far side of the coronavirus, just like many things changed after the terrorist attacks in the United States on 9/11. With all the misery in the world today, let’s be hopeful that this awful pandemic will lead to better ideas for how we work, get care, care for others, and lead our lives — hopefully to their fullest. I welcome your comments on the changes I believe may occur, and I’d love to hear what I may have missed.
About the Author
Andrew Mastrandonas, Co-founder & CEO of Pillar (www.pillarcare.com), Asia’s leading home care company. He is also Director of JPE Group, Asia's Most Comprehensive Care, Recovery & Senior Living Solutions organization. For more information please visit www.jpecare.com. This article was reviewed by Dr Lim Geng Yan (M.D).
Contributor since June 16th, 2019
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