The shortage of PPE is an ongoing issue in the U.S., and while many organizations are stepping up to help provide equipment, more help is needed. Clinical staff members are running short on protective equipment and are improvising in hopes of remaining safe. Non-clinical hospital staff has not been recently trained on the proper use of PPE. They need to be re-educated on adequate hygiene in clinical areas because this has not traditionally been a concern. Insufficient supplies of PPE make it impossible to equip patients’ families, which means that difficult conversations must often be held without family members present. The Chief Medical Officer role is often at the center of communications between clinical and non-clinical staff to ensure safe and effective care of patients. COVID-19 has underscored gaps in the system and organizational structures that must be addressed when the pandemic is over. Additional contingencies will need to be established to deal with pandemics, including access to flex healthcare professionals, budget exceptions to order critical supplies, communications protocols, emergency virtual practice management procedures and safety standards.
The Chief Medical Officer role in health systems influences healthcare technology
The Chief Medical Officer role has evolved over the past decade to include technology acquisition and implementation, as well as process improvement. COVID-19 has shown us that the stress on both ambulatory and inpatient capacity can be reduced by telehealth screening, without risking viral transmission. The risk to healthcare professionals can be reduced via virtual consults, either on-premises in a safe location or completely off-site. Low-risk patients can be quickly assessed and treated with medication, allowing the healthcare system to focus on those at the highest risk.
At Mount Sinai (U.S.), until recently, all pathologists had to be on-site to analyze biopsy slides, but since the U.S. government loosened regulations following the outbreak, they are permitted to read digital slides at home, preventing delays in critical patient care. While the digitization of healthcare data has been the key contributor to physician burnout, if the Chief Medical Officer role can work with hospital administration and physicians champions to balance demands in a more manageable way, access to technology that supports virtual clinical assessments can reinforce the safety goals of the healthcare system, as well as provide flex capabilities and community access in times of need.
Communication across roles must take priority
Previously, the healthcare industry has prioritized role-specific functions. There has been a workflow of communication down the line, but the loop has been closed otherwise. The same can be said for the Chief Medical Officer role and their duties.
What we have learned from COVID-19 is that communication and working in a more collaborative manner is vital. Clinical thought leaders across the continuum of care have a responsibility to explore all the virtual possibilities that healthcare has to offer. The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us that this expands far beyond what was previously thought to be necessary.