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Healthcare Lessons Learned through the Pandemic

Across the board, 2020 led to widespread innovation in response to the complex needs of work, school, and life amidst COVID-19. It was an incredibly formative year, squeezing perhaps decades of cultural and technological progress into the span of a few short months.

“We were going at turtle speed towards 21st century skills… COVID forced all that to happen in a matter of months.”

Jaime Bailey

We have quickly found ourselves living in a Star Trek world of video meetings, virtual classrooms, front-door delivery, and remote healthcare. The changes have been incredible, but have they been for the best?

“Medicine should complement all the good things that the American people do,” explains Dr. Richard Gibney. Our success in the post-pandemic world will depend on building the right systems and culture that meet patients’ needs.

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to step back and say we’ve got to change.”

Dr. Richard Gibney

Among the many lessons learned over the past year, one thing is for certain: the future is bright! Right now we are laying the groundwork for a promising future with new tools, practices, and ways of thinking.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the valuable lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Telehealth has immense benefits!

One of the great outcomes from the pandemic is the new widespread acceptance of telehealth. Today, it has become a wonderful tool for doctors and patients.

Many of us have experienced shorter commutes and lifestyle freedom through remote work. Businesses are also able to save huge amounts on reduced costs for offices and travel.

Many of those same principles apply to healthcare too. Telehealth means easier access for patients, greater efficiency for doctors, and saved time for everyone. Remote healthcare isn’t a solution for every problem, but a great percentage of medical issues don’t merit a lengthy office visit all the way across town.

2. There are still challenges to telehealth

Despite the many advantages of remote work and communication, the pandemic has also taught us about its serious shortcomings. If we are going to use telehealth successfully, we need to do it right.

“One thing the media and the government got wrong was the term ‘social distancing’” says Dr. Gibney. Sure, the concept was right, but the application was all wrong; they should have called it ‘physical distancing.’ COVID has shown us that ignoring social problems and isolating people is a terrible idea. We’ll never do that again… We have forgotten that we are equal parts spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical beings.”

The past year has taught us that while remote students, workers, and patients might be independent, they should never feel alone.

“One doctor I know does dialysis rounds using telehealth, but he just talks to the nurses,” shares Dr. Gibney. “In the whole year since the pandemic has hit, the patients have never seen him. He’s doing it absolutely wrong.”

“If we’re doing healthcare correctly, we should realize that 80% of medicine is social… telehealth is a marvelous change! It’s a vehicle to stay connected with our patients regardless of distance.”

Remote technologies can also keep the horizontal support system intact by facilitating virtual patient groups, check-ins, and communication. Patients can learn, encourage, and keep each other accountable in ways that doctors and nurses can’t.

3. Remote healthcare still needs to build community

We have all come to better appreciate the value of community over the past year. When we have the opportunity to gather freely again, we have got to do it right.

“When we do in-person medicine, it should be a gathering place for people to learn and share information with other people with a similar experience,” explains Dr. Gibney. “It’s like going to church or Starbucks, being able to share ideas in a safe gathering place.”

Jaime Bailey, Empowered Kidney Care’s educational expert, shares that we’re beginning to appreciate this same principle in education: “An effective learning environment doesn’t just include teacher-student (vertical) communication, it relies upon peer-to-peer (horizontal) relationships as well. Community support is critical for motivation, encouragement, collaboration, and accountability.”

4. Let the patients do the talking

Several experts in education like to say, “the one doing the talking is doing the learning.” Never has this concept been more relevant—in education and medicine.

“Teachers, principals, and doctors used to feel like they were at the top of the pyramid,” explains Jaime. “COVID flipped that and modified our learning environments.”

“Knowledge is bi-directional,” agrees Dr. Gibney. “We have to listen to what the patients say and see how they are doing…”

“We shouldn’t ask what we can do TO the patient, we should ask what we can do WITH the patient.”

Dr. Richard Gibney

We can shift the burden of responsibility from the doctor to the patient when we empower patients to have control over their own healthcare. Especially while patients are in-person at empowered dialysis centers, we can encourage confidence and retention by allowing patients to learn together and help coach each other.

Active listening and storytelling are also about building relationships and trust. This personal foundation is critical for a successful doctor/patient relationship. What are the real reasons for patient behavior? Are there any social factors at home or work that are affecting their medical outcomes? We will never know if we don’t ask.

5. Knowledge is power

Jaime shares how remote classrooms that relied on busywork saw performance suffer. Students were much more likely to engage when they understood the WHY behind their learning, not just the WHAT.

Similarly, it’s hard for self-care patients to stay accountable when they don’t really understand why they are doing what they are doing. Knowledge is power! Too often, doctors and nurses try to provide external motivation for compliance, when really, that motivation needs to come from within. If patients understand what their vitals mean and why certain treatments or prescriptions are important, they will take on more responsibility.

Many home dialysis patients have a hard time staying on track. Life will present all sorts of excuses to taking medications or dialyzing on time, but imagine how patients’ perspectives can improve if they understand how their lifestyle and treatment choices directly affect their happiness. Imagine how they might change their actions when they understand that they are ultimately in charge of their own healthcare.

6. Perform proactive monitoring and feedback

Both doctors and teachers should work together with their charges to monitor progress and make sure nobody falls behind. Technology can make this easier than ever before.

If patients are accustomed to self-monitoring and entering their basic vitals and treatment details into an online portal, then doctors and nurses can easily monitor for progress or problems. Because everything is digital, even artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to monitor and notify patients and healthcare workers of potential red flags automatically. Having already reviewed the data, doctors and nurses can then perform informed telehealth check-ins to hear the patient’s story and to discuss progress and coach their patients toward success.

Dr. Gibney also reminds us that feedback goes both ways. Healthcare providers should be asking questions to assess their own performance and make sure they are meeting their patients’ needs… “Did you feel empowered? Informed? Did we answer all your questions?”

The future of healthcare starts today

Over the past year, we have discovered both immense benefits and significant challenges to remote life. Work, school, and healthcare of the future will undoubtedly remain a “hybrid” arrangement, serving Americans both in-person and from afar. It’s up to us to take our lessons learned from both arenas to build smarter, better systems to build greater relationships and trust.

If you’re working to improve your own healthcare practice. We can help. The right systems are absolutely key to success, and we can help facilitate a smooth and effective transformation into this new, brighter future of kidney care.

Empowered Kidney Care

The Empowered Kidney Care staff is made up of doctors, nurses, educators, and change-makers all dedicated to revolutionizing the kidney care experience in America.