What will be the lasting legacies of COVID-19 for the next generation of healthcare workers?
By Jan Kimpen Chief Medical Officer, Royal Philips
Estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began to unfold, my immediate concerns were with how to help save the lives of people suffering from COVID-19. Then it became clear that people with other diseases and conditions were also suffering due to delayed appointments, surgeries and other kinds of care. As the death toll rose, and I heard more stories of families losing loved-ones and of people suffering in isolation, I realized how profoundly overwhelmed the healthcare system was by this crisis.
And there’s one group that deserves our special attention, young healthcare professionals who may have joined a hospital’s staff only weeks or months ago, and had to face a dramatic increase in physical, emotional and social workload overnight. They have held a special place in my heart since I began mentoring them many years ago when I worked as a pediatrician in a hospital. They have often confided in me about those difficult moments on the job, when they felt worn down by high caseloads, drowning in data and burdened by administrative chores. And this was before a pandemic hit.
Already overworked and burnt-out, how are they going to fare during the worst pandemic in living memory?
At Philips, we’ve been closely following the situation and have been deeply involved in efforts to tackle the pandemic. In order to better understand how the pandemic is changing healthcare, we have surveyed hundreds of younger doctors to find out more about their perceptions and experiences in recent months. We learned something quite surprising, but very heartening, from the results — the COVID-19 pandemic has not led to a dramatic increase in younger doctors wanting to leave medicine.
On the contrary, a quarter (25%) of younger doctors reported a greater level of satisfaction at work, and more than one-third (39%) reported a deeper feeling of purpose at work as a result of their work during the pandemic. To me, this is a remarkable finding that underscores the commitment of our young doctors to the care of their patients during this impactful pandemic affecting public health in all countries around the world. For that, I have nothing but admiration and a deep gratitude.
So what can healthcare leaders learn from our new FHI Insights research? Let’s dig into that.
For some younger doctors, the pandemic has paved the way for a more collaborative, digitally enabled and flexible workplace.
Rising to the challenge
Back in March, we published our latest Future Health Index Report, which found that around one-third (34%) of younger healthcare professionals have considered leaving the profession because of work-related stress.
Encouragingly, our new FHI Insights survey reveals that fewer younger doctors today say that they are likely to leave medicine (9%). Most younger doctors in this survey felt their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic had no impact on their likelihood to stay in or leave medicine (53%). About one-third (38%) of younger doctors said they are even more likely to stay in medicine.
I’m not sharing these findings to minimize what has been an unprecedented and challenging time for the entire healthcare sector. While caring for extremely sick and dying patients infected with the coronavirus, young doctors and nurses have risked – and even lost – their lives to answer the call of a lifetime during this pandemic. There are lessons that we can learn about better, smarter ways of working that seem to be improving the job satisfaction of younger doctors as well as the quality of care for their patients.
Ways of working worth keeping
For some younger doctors, the pandemic has paved the way for a more collaborative, digitally enabled and flexible workplace. Back in March, our Future Health Index 2020 Report pinpointed all these areas as most desirable for younger healthcare professionals when looking for a place to work. COVID-19 has forced improvements in each of these areas, and healthcare leaders should consider how best to preserve these positive changes.
When our new FHI Insights survey asked about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of all younger doctors reported increased collaboration with colleagues across skill sets (44%) and increased exposure to new ways of using digital health technologies (44%) as positive developments.
One development that stands out to me is how COVID-19 has forced the accelerated adoption of virtual care. From online consultations to tele-ICUs, telehealth has become a vital instrument for coping with a rapidly spreading infection like COVID-19. Philips, for example, has made available a dedicated scalable telehealth application that facilitates the use of online patient screening and monitoring and is supported by existing call centers. The application aims to prevent unnecessary visits to general practitioners and hospitals by remotely monitoring the vast majority of COVID-19 patients who are quarantined at home.
From online consultations to tele-ICUs, telehealth has become a vital instrument for coping with a rapidly spreading infection like COVID-19
Data sharing is another key area worthy of attention and one that we are actively working on to improve. In the Netherlands, we have partnered with Erasmus Medical Center, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, and the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport to create an online portal that allows Dutch hospitals to share COVID-19 patient information with one another, making patient data easily and securely transferred via the cloud from one hospital to another. Being able to share patient data between hospitals at the touch of a button is vitally important to optimizing the use of health-care resources. Since its launch on March 28, 95% of Dutch hospitals have already connected to the portal, a process that would have taken years to achieve prior to the pandemic.
Many younger doctors, our FHI Insights research shows, are hopeful that these recent trends will continue after the pandemic. I am, too.
A wake-up call
As our Future Health Index report found back in March, to keep younger health care workers engaged and passionate about their careers, we must ensure that working environments built on flexibility, collaboration, optimized technology and data sharing are here to stay long after we’ve stopped the spread of COVID-19.
As our new FHI Insights survey revealed, the pandemic has shown us that by following these principles, health systems can provide a better experience for staff and patients alike, even under the most trying conditions.
By keeping what’s working – collaboration, flexibility, digital technology (if implemented correctly) – we’ll keep a generation of younger healthcare professionals committed and engaged in their work, during the tough times as well as when things are going smoothly.
Before joining Philips in 2016, Jan Kimpen, Professor of Pediatrics, was CEO of the University Medical Center in Utrecht. He leads the global clinical team of Philips, focusing on advocacy, customer partnerships, clinical research and medical consulting, and is responsible for the annual publication of the Philips Future Health Index.
He is a strategic advisor for commercial and clinical strategy, market reimbursement, R&D roadmaps and partnerships and M&A, and provides thought leadership on relevant clinical and medical topics. Jan participates in the WEF Global Future Council on Healthcare, the American Heart Association alliance and the Board of Sanara Ventures in Israel. Jan is president of COCIR, the European trade union for imaging, healthcare informatics and radiotherapy.