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How COVID-19 Might Reshape Healthcare

May 15, 2020

As “unprecedented” as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, Hartford HealthCare (HHC) President and CEO Jeff Flaks said it will guide transformation of the healthcare industry.

“We’re going to see a new industry emerge worldwide – new beds, new ways to clean rooms, new ways to enter rooms,” he said in “COVID-19 and Connecticut Healthcare Leaders: A View from Ground Zero,” a webinar this week facilitated by the Hartford Business Journal. “Hospitals will be safer, offer greater quality and be more prepared as a result of the lessons learned from this.”

It has not been a smooth path and all challenges are not behind HHC, but Flaks said quick-thinking clinical teams, an ability to leverage staff and space across the system and a focus on caring for the sick while protecting colleagues and the community from the virus has been impressive.

“This statewide partnership,” he said, referring to work with other healthcare systems in the state, “shows the strength of the (hospital) safety net in Connecticut.”

The long-term impact of COVID-19, Flaks continued, will be “huge.” The system must recover from financial losses he estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but the real change will be the way healthcare is organized and offered.

“We don’t want to return to normal, we want to be better than normal,” he said.

Some practices that evolved during the pandemic might warrant maintaining, such as the use of technology at the bedside to connect patients and families, or in an office to facilitate virtual health visits with providers.

“We have been able to have specialties in other areas of the state due to digital health,” Flaks said.

The decision to restrict visitors has seen closer and more meaningful relationships develop between caregivers and patients.
“The connections our teams have had with the patients are better than they’ve ever been,” Flaks noted.

Responding to COVID-19 has also broadened the system’s level of preparedness.

“We will see all our institutions invest in better critical care capabilities and expand infectious disease focus,” he said. “Our infectious disease people are like rock stars in all of this!”

The more immediate future will see an increase in testing for COVID-19 and its antibodies and tracking the human contacts made by people who test positive for the virus.

“Tracing will be critical going forward because there are so many people who are asymptomatic,” Flaks said, adding that widespread testing and tracing will be critical to getting the state open safely. “It’s not just administering the test. It’s about how you care for the people who test positive and tracking.”

Nationally, he predicted stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE), like those held of oil, will be created for future catastrophies.

“There will be so many improvements coming out of this emergency … significant improvements in practices going forward,” Flaks said.

“We’ll be better.”

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