Healthcare professionals take deep pride in their reputation for resiliency, and 2020 only strengthened that association. According to an NRC Health survey of 90,000 healthcare workers, 93% said they still “have great pride” in their jobs, and nearly 75% “love coming to work every day,” roughly the same percentage as in 2019.
The findings also indicate that healthcare organizations have done well to provide the tools to help employees cope with the unprecedented demands of the COVID-19 crisis.
That’s the pandemic’s “silver lining,” says Vince Vickers, a principal with KPMG’s healthcare and life sciences practice who has 30 years’ experience in the health IT industry. Though the healthcare industry has been slow to embrace technological change, he says, the crisis has accelerated industrywide investments in digital innovation.
“If you’d asked me when the pandemic just started, I would have expected adoption to take a step backwards for a while,” Vickers says. “But the opposite occurred. When you have to respond to something like this pandemic, you have to do it quickly. It forces you to move outside your comfort zone. That’s what the industry did.”
In a recent conversation with Workflow, Vickers described how the crisis has reshaped the way healthcare workers do their jobs, and what that will mean for employee experience over the long term.
What has surprised you the most about the healthcare industry’s resilience?
The speed at which the sector reacted. Whether it’s an individual frontline provider like a nurse or somebody in the back office, I think they would all tell you how proud they are of their ability to change.
The industry got out of its conservative mindset, which is refreshing.
How did healthcare providers change the most?
Probably in the shift toward remote workforces. I remember meeting a few years ago with a C-level healthcare executive who went on a rant about how he had made a poor decision by allowing a segment of their back-office workers to move toward a virtual Friday. He was worried about their productivity level. What were they doing at home? He was thinking in an old-school way.
When you have to respond to something like this pandemic, you have to do it quickly. It forces you to move outside your comfort zone.
Then, in the middle of the pandemic, I reminded him of our conversation. I said, “You’ve now got an entire back office, finance organization, HR organization, web developers, all working remotely. How’s that going?” He told me that he had been completely wrong: Not only was his organization managing the shift to remote working, if anything it had become more productive with a remote workforce.
He also noted that it may not be completely sustainable. Some lines will have to be drawn to ensure high-quality employee experiences. But this could be one of the silver linings coming out of the pandemic.
How have virtual tools affected the way healthcare workers do their jobs?
I’ve spoken a lot about the consumerization of healthcare. As consumers, we now expect to find what we want online and have it delivered immediately. That idea has been slow to infiltrate healthcare, but with COVID the concept of telehealth has really accelerated. My daughter, instead of going to a children’s hospital, is now able to interact with her pediatrician over Zoom. Coming out of COVID, consumers are going to expect more of this.
There are limitations, obviously, to the amount of virtual things you can do—in particular with emergency rooms and surgeries. But there is a significant amount of provider care that can be done virtually.
What obstacles stand in the way?
Technology isn’t one of them. It’s actually the best part of this. It’s not like we’re having to invent anything from a technological perspective. The capabilities exist. It’s a matter of what the provider is willing to do with it while also ensuring some level of control and quality around everything.
There are also security and operational components to consider. As virtual technology becomes more standardized and focused, those things will have to be worked out and better managed.
Did the pandemic expose any holes in how healthcare promotes employee experience?
Beyond technology, probably just the need to ensure we’re taking care of folks. There are going to be other crises after COVID-19. It may not be a pandemic. It could be a natural disaster or something else. We have to figure out ways to take better care of people when those occur.