We’re entering month eight of the COVID-19 pandemic, and although the response ― and impact ― has varied by country and even by state in the U.S., it has universally been an overwhelming time.

Much remains uncertain, so let’s ask ourselves: What have we learned so far, and what changes can we make to mitigate future public health turmoil?

Physical care spaces need more flexibility. The pandemic has uncovered big gaps in our delivery model. We need more spaces for procedural and intensive care. We must be able to change ventilation requirements at a moment’s notice. The rigid architecture of traditional facilities makes it excessively difficult to create appropriate areas to care for an influx of severely ill patients. To be better prepared, we need to invest in flexible spaces that can expand and contract, based on patient volumes and needs.

Patients and providers must embrace new modalities of care. While hospitals will likely always be necessary for complex care, we can provide most treatments in other kinds of facilities. We’re already seeing this shift, thanks to advances in technology, value-based payment models, more personalized medicine – and the changing perceptions of our patients. Before COVID-19, many patients would take the first opportunity to visit a hospital even for a simple ailment. Now, most people try to avoid a hospital visit and explore ways to get treatment virtually. In the United States, we have responded by fast-tracking the adoption of new remote modalities of care. We’ve changed our attitudes – and our governments and regulators are quickly breaking down barriers to new modes of care. In one sweeping change, U.S. authorities addressed issues related to state licensing disparities and reimbursements for telemedicine visits. The result: Telehealth use has grown from 11% to 46% during the pandemic’s first wave. At Johns Hopkins, we have greatly expanded our remote-care capabilities and have gone from providing a few dozen telehealth visits to several thousand each day.

We need more data and technology to shape patient care. As the pandemic surges and subsides, physicians are finding themselves helpless in predicting a patient’s outcome based on our current parameters. This has made us look more favorably toward technology to find associations between data and outcomes. It’s like we’ve made a collective decision to take a giant leap forward in adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning – both of which are greatly augmenting researchers’ ability to understand the coronavirus, and, in turn, providing new insights for treatment, medication, screening, prediction, forecasting, contact tracing and the drug/vaccine development process.

Health care can and must make quick, strategic changes. It’s been a daunting challenge to respond to the patient care and research needs related to COVID-19. There’s still much that we need to address, but there’s positive proof that health care, as an institution, is capable of quick and strategic change.

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