4 Challenges Facing The Healthcare Industry During COVID-19

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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the global healthcare system has been massively tested and tried. Several aspects have been affected, from its capacity to deal with a continuous influx of patients, to its financial strength, data security, and patient experience.  

As all this is happening, the industry is forced to deal with the sudden and urgent need to innovate ways to continue rendering services to the other patients. Today, medical practice is no longer only about patient treatment but also how best patients can receive services without the need to visit the facility, where possible. Looking at the healthcare industry now and beyond, these are the challenges they’re facing. 

  1. Data Security Threat 

Cyber security in healthcare aims at protecting sensitive patient information and data from access, disclosure, or use. Research shows that in 2019, there were 572 reported cases of patient data breach, and 41 million records were exposed. Each breach is estimated to have cost the industry an average of $1.8 million. 

This goes to show that data threats and breaches aren’t new to the industry. However, the pandemic only heightened the issue. COVID-19 exposed the actual state of how vulnerable the healthcare data infrastructure is. Apart from the industry trying to manage the health crisis, they also had to deal with the imminent cyber threats. 

These threats have been increased with the rise of digital and work from home initiatives to continue delivering services to patients who don’t need to visit a facility. Look at this website to see other healthcare data vulnerabilities and how cybercriminals exploit them. 

To get ahead of this challenge, healthcare providers will need to be more alert to cyber threats and invest in proper cybersecurity practices. Simple practices such as using stronger passwords, multi-factor authentication, and using a firewall can go a long way in keeping patient data from attackers. 

  1. Huge Financial Burden 

The healthcare providers had to cancel non-emergency services and surgeries, many of which are the providers’ financial lifeline. This is in addition to taking care of COVID-19 patients, which remains costly to most providers even with the relief funds. Facilities are faced with high operating costs due to surges in COVID-19 patients, the shutdown of most regular operations, and the accommodation of large number of patients without insurance. 

There’s been so much financial pressure in hospitals coupled with the fact that some patients are afraid to visit healthcare facilities in fear of contacting COVID-19. The crisis could force some of these facilities to cease operations ultimately. 

  1. Adequate Provision Of Digital Health 

With COVID-19 came regulations on keeping a safe distance and the need to minimize in-person interactions. Data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the pandemic accelerated telehealth services. The first quarter of 2020 saw up to a 50% increase in telehealth visits compared to the same period in 2019. 

This posed a considerable challenge as healthcare personnel all came to telehealth in varying experience levels and knowledge. Some of the initial virtual health visits were conducted on social media platforms, the same as people do when sharing personal messages with families and friends. Other issues were only scarcely attended to, such as mental health issues. 

The health industry needs to determine the most logical platforms to use for virtual visits. Also, there’s a need to try and cover all health issues equally. However, there are some cases where telehealth can’t entirely replace in-person visits, such as elderly care, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. 

  1. Billing And Payment Challenges 

The pandemic has enhanced contactless invoicing and payment, and healthcare facilities must adhere to the new normal. To help patients make payments when required, the healthcare providers must shift to accept payments from the methods preferred by patients. They also need to focus on improving the patient experience through paperless billing. 

To remediate this challenge, healthcare providers will need to have online patient payment portals with a large variety of payment methods. These portals should go with the emerging technological advancements for easy payments. They should also include email or text reminders for effective communication to patients, encouraging them to pay when payments fall due. 

The other hurdle the healthcare industry faces is setting up multiple payment processing methods and overhauling the invoicing and payment infrastructure—all these while following strict patient confidentiality practices. The providers will need to ensure security and privacy compliance within the new systems. 

Final Thoughts 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges to all industries, but the one that faced the most challenges was the healthcare industry. The surge of patients, the need for fewer in-person interactions, and the halting of some operations meant that the industry had to go through massive changes. The changes came with numerous challenges that it’s facing to date and might still go on longer. 

Moving on toward recovery won’t be easy as the pandemic is unpredictable, and new strains keep emerging. However, with the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines, the operations could start moving back to normal as cases and their severity hopefully goes down. 

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