COVID-19 has drastically impacted every facet of life. Health care has been the center of this pandemic, and those working in health care have seen first-hand the crisis and the advancements made. As we reflect on the impact this pandemic has, we have seen both the worst and best of our health care system.
1. The scientific and medical community is interconnected and, together, can achieve amazing things. If we reflect on the last year, we can see just how much the scientific and medical community has achieved. Scientists led the way in genome sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 strains and now developed multiple COVID-19 vaccines (a process that normally takes years to do). The first mRNA vaccine was developed. Industry developed antibody tests and antigen tests to allow rapid testing to allow for isolation and quarantine and reduce the spread of the virus. Clinical researchers and the explosion of clinical trials helped identify effective treatments, drugs, and vaccines. And lastly, public health epidemiologists were crucial in the prevention and mitigation of the virus. By working together, we understand the virus, figured out ways to manage and treat the disease, and developed vaccines, all in a year and a half.
2. Our health care system has areas for improvement. In addition to rapid advancements and achievements, this pandemic has brought to light the disparities and inequities within the health care system. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Latinx and Black communities, as well as low-income populations. Many people lost their health insurance this past year due to layoffs, furloughs, and long-term unemployment. The cost of medical care and the lack of affordable health insurance also forced people to put off physician visits. We must recognize the disparities in the health care system, engage with those involved, and work together to develop policies and practices that promote health equity.
3. Our health care system and health care workers are creative, adaptive, and flexible. During the past year, health care and delivery have changed drastically. When case counts surged, hospitals converted non-patient care areas into patient care areas, increased bed and intensive care capacity, implemented telemonitoring, and used iPads and tablets for patients to remain connected with their families. Field hospitals were utilized to cope with the overflow of patients. Telemedicine became popular, especially with family medicine and outpatient care, as well as mental health providers. And mass testing centers and vaccination clinics were organized and mobile units deployed to reach underserved and rural areas.
4. We must take care of those who take care of everyone. This past year has taken a toll, both physically and emotionally, on our physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and every health care worker. It has been an especially stressful year, between the isolation from family and friends, fear of contracting the illness and spreading it to loved ones, long work hours, increased number and acuity of patients, and the high number of deaths. Many feel the effects, and there is an increase in burnout, anxiety, depression, and even suicides. These health care workers have been there for patients when patients’ families weren’t allowed to visit, they have held the hand of patients as they passed away, and they have provided the best possible care for these patients in a time of uncertainty. We must remember to take care of those who take care of everyone if we expect them to continue providing the best care possible.
Christine Lau is a physician.
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