It feels like the days when I could go to all-you-can-eat buffets, when I could actually catch a smile from a patient and when I could hug someone after a successful chemotherapy round were written in history books long ago.
In some ways, I have spent over the last 13 months figuring out how to breathe and live again. My daily routines, as a result, have slowly morphed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we all look forward to that day when the pandemic will be a thing of the past, we also know that it will linger a little longer than expected.
This lengthy pandemic experience has illuminated some consequential changes that I have noticed in the health care field in the last year or so. In some instances, I feel that the six essential lessons — adaptability, empathy, innovation, optimism, unity — from various health care entities can be applied more broadly to those eyeing towards a progressive mindset and seeking to bring cohesive productivity and to mitigate undesired consequences in their field. In a way, these elements have allowed these health care organizations to navigate the tempestuous waters, and, through a collaborative and supportive environment, face the unpredictable challenges by essentially embracing change.
In March of 2020, just as the wave of COVID-19 hit the floors of Wall Street and hospital walls, SACHS clinic, the largest specialty-based and federally qualified outpatient health center in the nation, quickly adapted to its environment. “We created an outbound call team of 20 people to proactively call patients, explain virtual visits, and schedule virtual visits, both telephone, and video,” CEO Dr. Jason Lohr said as he recalled the first few months of the pandemic. This change proved to be effective in connecting with patients and addressing the needs of the community. “We actually started making close to 800 to 1,000 visits a day, and that was our saving grace during the COVID pandemic.” As the pandemic continues to change its course, so will we likely see SACHS clinic continue to adapt.
Loma Linda School of Medicine’s longstanding mission has consistently recognized the importance of empathy as fundamental to its approach to patient care. This proved critical during the course of the pandemic as I rounded on patients. From the start of our training, we were taught to embrace and proactively apply the CLEAR Whole Person Care Model: Connect, Listen, Explore, Acknowledge, and Respond.
As we saw our patients, we implemented this to encourage compassionate encounters and deepened our interactions with them. Empathy and connection sparked an engaging conversation as a whole person and not just a part of him or her.
When the current model of health care was no longer effective, the University of California (UC) Irvine Medical Center took the initiative to innovate new solutions that would address the needs of its communities and patients. Isolation precautions created a unique challenge for patient care, but UC Irvine researchers took this as an opportunity to use robotics as a new way to address patients’ needs. Cognitive sciences professor Jeffrey Krichmar said that robots can be critically important in helping disinfect areas that are contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. These innovative machines can be placed in homes, schools, or offices to sanitize surfaces and tend to the needs of the elderly within nursing homes.
All the raucous surrounding noise of the health care crisis could have deafened the ears of the Inland Empire Health Plan leadership team and its members, but instead, its CEO Jarrod McNaughton took another approach and fought to find “relentless optimism, creative solutions, and kindness for loved ones and strangers alike.” With more than 1.2 million people being served in the Inland Empire community, it was important from the start to remind everyone that we could use hope in a time of instability. Our view of what the outcome could be can influence our present behavior and those around us. “We sent out a lot of communication to folks about how to stay upbeat, positive, and practical tips for thriving,” he shared with me. In the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nicholas M. Butler, “[O]ptimism is essential to achievement, and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.”
At the peak of the pandemic, Riverside Community Hospital was known to be on fragile grounds as it dealt with what seemed like an insurmountable number of cases. My medical school friend, Adrian Agudelo, who is in his second year of emergency medicine residency, shared how unity has been an important asset to his residency and workplace. “When the ICUs were completely full, my co-residents volunteered to work extra in those units for weeks at a time. We know these times are tough for us all, but sticking together and being a team mattered to us and helped us get through it.” He further mentioned how that mentality shaped the culture during the harshest times in the pandemic.
NASA’s Mars Rover program said it nicely in the wake of the pandemic: “Perseverance can get you anywhere.” When we connect all vowels, we stand a better chance to withstand the pandemic and thrive in our world. We can all learn a little bit from the five different health care organizations. In a recent Fortune Brainstorm Health session, Mayo Clinic CEO Gianrico Farrugia vocalized how the pandemic “has given health care organizations the confidence that they can tolerate change more than we thought they could.” The trials of our times will create a ripple effect for generations to come. While we shuffle our feet to find the best way to balance ourselves in the current ongoing pandemic, why not take these vowels and apply them as well?
Ricardo Chujutalli and Daniel Azzam are medical students.
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