The healthcare industry woke up to a new world Thursday. I’m not sure how much they liked the view.
Last week’s ending of the public health emergency, like the World Health Organization’s recent decree that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency, wasn’t marked by high-fives or tossing personal protective equipment in the air like mortarboards at a school graduation. It was another day at work, school or home. Maybe you heard about someone who tested positive for COVID-19, which will remain part of our lives.
Related: The COVID-19 public health emergency is ending. Here’s what’s changing.
Yet so much has changed in the past three-plus years. The pandemic brought out the best in us as human beings. It also brought out the worst. Our worlds temporarily got smaller as we had to find new ways of working, shopping, socializing, checking on relatives and more. New habits were formed, and some of them stuck. But in many ways, normalcy has returned for members of the public.
It has become clear that astute healthcare companies—especially hospitals and health systems—are reading the room, as they say, and harbor no such illusions the industry will revert to its pre-pandemic ways.
Front-line workers, overworked, underpaid and in harm’s way during a pandemic marked by a shortage of PPE, demand better. The federal funds that helped hospitals have dried up, leaving behind a murky financial picture and more conversations about affiliations, mergers and acquisitions. Rural hospitals, with little chance of finding partners, are just trying to hold on.
While health systems were grappling with cases of the disease, retailers and others sensed opportunity to upset the status quo. As a result, patients will benefit from more choices in where and how they receive care—good for the consumer, not so good for traditional providers. The government has also stepped up scrutiny in so many corners of the industry, from wages and minimum staffing requirements to acquisitions and the practices of pharmacy benefit managers.
So yes, the vista before the sector is much different from that of the consumer.
Many industries have found themselves at a similar inflection point, trying to meet the demands of the business—one that needs to generate profits—while adapting to serve existing customers and attracting new ones. My profession, journalism, continues to have those adapt-or-die moments in its evolution.
The care, delivery and payment models lasted for so long because they didn’t need to change. Those days are gone.
We look forward to reporting on how you handle your evolution.