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The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the health care industry to its limits as providers, hospitals, and those who insure them worked to adapt and serve patients. To gain a full understanding of the pandemic’s transformative impact on the industry, including key liability concerns, I spoke with Phil Foster, Chief Risk Officer at CommonSpirit Health. CommonSpirit is a Risk Strategies client and one of the nation’s largest health care systems, including over 140 hospitals, many of which were “stressed to the max” from an operations standpoint at the pandemic’s height.
Foster has overseen CommonSpirit Health’s enterprise risk management program throughout COVID-19 and has a keen view of the changes the system underwent, and the challenges that are still to come.
At a Glance
During the pandemic, health care systems saw a lower patient volume, even in the emergency department. This was positive news for health insurers, but providers took a huge financial hit trying to quickly react to unprecedented challenges and reduced revenues. Providers with weak balance sheets struggled to absorb the losses.
The Rise of Telehealth
The pandemic pulled the health care industry into the future, encouraging providers to adopt virtual treatment options much faster than they would have otherwise. Providers who were previously hesitant to use telehealth and telemedicine technologies found themselves with no other option. They soon recognized the power and benefits of the technology and the opportunities it offered for expanded patient care.
Patients quickly took to the digitized option as well. “The number of virtual visits within our systems jumped exponentially from pre-pandemic levels,” Foster told me. “We’ve invested in technology to support this. Our operations will be transformed long term and this change is for the better for patients, providers and payors.”
The widespread use of telehealth technology frees up much needed time and employee resources and offers a safe, convenient alternative to in-person care. On the insurance side, decisions are still being made about how to best charge for and reimburse telehealth visits.
Employer Challenges and Considerations
Vaccine Mandates: The Next Hurdle
Health care providers are under enormous pressure to keep staff safe and healthy. The question of whether or not to mandate vaccines for workers in the health care industry is the next major challenge organizations will face. Mandating vaccines but denying or allowing select religious exemptions may expose providers to tort opportunities.
Despite enormous hurdles, long-term changes, and ongoing challenges, the health care industry has grown, evolved and improved in the last 20 months. “We learned how to better care for patients,” Phil Foster shared. “We improved processes and operations, which benefited employees and our level of care.”
Follow ‘The Other Side’ blog series as we continue to explore the post-COVID landscape across industries.
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