Coronavirus Impact for Healthcare Administrators and Education

COVID-19 is a pandemic that is hitting our healthcare system like a tsunami. Modern hospitals have been pared down to a just-in-time, economic efficiency model that doesn’t seem to be providing enough coverage for an extraordinary public health crises. Thus, healthcare administration and clinicians alike must adapt quickly to meet the needs presented by a crisis none of us have ever seen before.
Hospital staff are all sure to be put on high alert during this emergency and their resources will be stretched to the limit. Already, hospital administrators are being asked to perform duties such as checking incoming patient temperatures, monitoring entrances and exits, and providing necessary moral support to overworked doctors and nurses. On top of this, the safety equipment clinicians need is in short supply, since the just-in-time economic models prevented holding these vital items in inventory in sufficient numbers.
New York City is the current national epicenter but other areas will soon begin to suffer just as much. While this might sound alarming or like only so much hype, COVID-19 is a very real emergency for which there is no alarm loud enough.

COVID-19 What is It?

COVID-19, also known as the novel Coronavirus, being the most recent one found, is a highly communicable respiratory disease. It presents with flu-like symptoms but can also cause pneumonia-like symptoms and a loss of taste and smell, and can eventually do irreparable harm to the respiratory system. COVID-19 is far more deadly than the average seasonal flu, particularly for the elderly and immune-compromised.

Where Did it Come From?

The disease was first discovered in Wuhan, China, after an outbreak there. And there’s plenty of speculation about its origination point. However, the exact origins of the disease are unknown. Some theories suggest that it had been circulating for quite some time prior to the Wuhan cases. It has also been suspected that COVID-19 originally sprang from animals and mutated to affect humans; a believable theory since bats and pangolins are known to be reservoirs for other coronavirus’. Wherever it came from, it belongs to all of us now, and we’re all going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

Why is This Virus/Disease So Dangerous?

The disease strikes the respiratory system and can cause mucous build-up that blocks air passages, much like pneumonia. Critical patients often have double pneumonia and even experience failure in one or more organs. COVID-19 can strike anyone and has caused death in young and old alike.
That in itself might not make the disease as dangerous as it is. What adds to this is the fact that it is highly communicable, even before you are having symptoms or feeling sick at all, and some studies suggest that up to 50% of cases are asymptomatic. That means the carrier never feels sick or shows symptoms, but that doesn’t mean they can’t give the disease to other people. It’s a silent spreader, which is why so many places have locked their citizens down; they may not even know if they’re spreading it.

How it is Spread?

COVID-19 is spread from person to person. The exact means of transmission can include airborne particulates from nearby persons or from touching surfaces where the virus is living. The virus is known to live for as long as 5 hours on certain surfaces, such as stainless steel and plastic. New studies suggest that particulates of the virus can hang in the air where an infected person has been breathing for hours, meaning the disease may also be airborne.

Total Cases in the United States on the Rise

As of April 6, 2020, the United States had 161,883 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The three states with the most infections to date are:

  • New York – 130,689
  • New Jersey – 37,505
  • California – 13,438

The United States currently leads the world for the highest number of reported, confirmed cases. Italy has the second most cases with 101,991. And those numbers are only increasing, as we have not yet hit the peak of cases in any state.

Who is Most at Risk?

Though everyone is at risk for infection and illness, the populations most at risk are the elderly and those with immune disorders or other underlying diseases that make it harder for your body to fight back or affect the respiratory system, such as diabetes or asthma. The Washington State Department of Health reports that children aged 0-19 years account for only 2% of cases. From there, the rates of infection rise precipitously:

  • Age 20-39 – 25%
  • Age 40-59 – 33%
  • Age 60-79 – 28%
  • Age 80+ – 12%

Overall, women are reporting a higher rate of infection than males with 51% of cases attributed to females and 45% impacting males. The remaining 4% was not attributed to either sex. However, though more women are reporting cases, the numbers indicate that far more men die of the virus than women. While researchers are still trying to figure out why, it’s just another reason for everyone to be careful while we deal with this pandemic. The differences in mortality from country to country, and the difficulty in ascertaining why some populations are hit so hard, are mysteries that we may not have answers for until long after the pandemic is over.

Effects of Disasters on Healthcare Workers

Though we count on them to be there in times of need, healthcare workers are not immune to the impacts of various disasters. In the case of COVID-19, doctors and nurses are contracting the disease due to their close proximity with infected patients combined with a lack of proper protective equipment.

Disasters more generally impact healthcare workers by greatly overworking them. The mental and emotional stress that doctors and nurses undergo is incredible and far beyond that of their normal working conditions. Since they are on the front lines of any disaster, they are exposed to its most dramatic impacts, including the deaths of both young and old alike. During a pandemic event, doctors and nurses may also dread returning home to their families, for fear that they might infect them, too. This keeps them isolated from their support structures during this difficult time or magnifies their stress.

To address this problem, some experts recommend that healthcare workers make time in their day to process their experiences with others. They should also take time for relaxation techniques, including deep breathing exercises and meditation. However, this is going to be talked about for years while the healthcare community comes to grips with the realization that we need to do a better job of protecting our last line of defense against illness.

Burnout in Healthcare Administration and Other Staff

Burnout is all too common in the healthcare profession. The work is highly stressful as professionals often face very heavy workloads, long hours, and an environment that demands absolute perfection at all times. Burnout becomes even more prevalent after disaster events. Thus, we need to be on the lookout for burnout after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.

While we first consider burnout as a problem for clinical care workers, such as doctors and nurses, it is also a problem for administrators. In these times of crisis, administrators are also feeling immense pressure to procure supplies, staff every shift with healthy workers, and even pitch in on the front lines. Thus, COVID-19 is stressing our healthcare systems from every angle. Try to be aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout.

Administrators might consider allaying this near-inevitable problem by helping staff with meditation sessions, yoga classes, and counseling. Many of these resources are available from online outlets so that there is no need for outsiders to be exposed to the coronavirus. At the very least, we should be allowing our healthcare workers time to recover from every shift during this time when each one may feel like working in a war zone.

Symptoms of Burnout:

Critical of workplace – poor attitude:
This might be the most outward presenting symptom. During the COVID-19 emergency, the healthcare system is experiencing many shortcomings that may or may not be the fault of a healthcare system. Regardless, a poor attitude regarding these difficulties is detrimental for everyone but a common sign that an employee is close to their breaking point.

Irritability with co-workers or patients:
This may be another sign that a worker has reached the end of their tether. Having a short temper with fellow healthcare providers is problematic and might spread burnout, and having a short temper with patients is simply unacceptable.

Sleep patterns disturbed:
This creates a cyclical problem where the burned out worker is unable to replenish their energies when they needs rest.

Lack of job satisfaction:
COVID-19 presents a seemingly insurmountable problem. This could lead to a sense of futility and burnout.

Self-medicating with drugs/alcohol, food, or gambling:
Those who become emotionally overwhelmed might resort to drugs and alcohol to self-soothe. This is maladaptive and will cause physical and psychological problems.

Physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, or other psychosomatic physical symptoms:
This symptom is common and might be an early warning sign of burnout. Unfortunately, it might also present as an illness and cause more stress in the process.

Possible Fallout with Patients

It’s hard to gauge how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact long-term patient-doctor relations. It is feared that patients might be wary to return to their doctors due to lingering memories that they wish to avoid. On the other hand, if the healthcare system remains strong and helps us all overcome COVID-19, patients may experience a renewed faith in the medical system and return easily to their family physicians.

One possible source of damage to the healthcare profession seems to be coming from public personalities, including politicians, who are disseminating information contrary to that of public health experts. Such messages undermine the authority and reliability of medical professionals. The ensuing confusion not only threatens to exacerbate infection rates, but it can do long-term damage to patient trust in the healthcare system in general.

One possible source of damage to the healthcare profession seems to be coming from public personalities, including politicians, who are disseminating information contrary to that of public health experts. Such messages undermine the authority and reliability of medical professionals. The ensuing confusion not only threatens to exacerbate infection rates, but it can do long-term damage to patient trust in the healthcare system in general.

The Future of Teleworking in the Medical Profession

One dramatic shift that began before but ramped up in the wake of COVID-19 was the mass movement to remote work. Suddenly, even the least-probable workers found that they had resources with which to work from home. That includes many in the medical profession. Administrators in particular found it easy to shift to off-site work, but clinical care workers also found that telework suited some of their functions. Mental healthcare workers, for example, found that they could implement teleconferencing as a means to connect with both patients and colleagues. Front line doctors and nurses who usually work to diagnose patients can talk with them on the phone or through a video call and send them to a lab only for necessary tests based on that discussion.

Since person-to-person exposure is limited on a massive scale with its implementation, many diagnostic procedures are now taking place via phone or using teleconferencing technologies. Naturally, this shift requires that homebound workers have access to broadband internet connections. If this massive experiment in working from home, across the whole economy, proves efficient, not only will healthcare systems be able to quickly adapt to future emergencies, but ordinary working conditions may change as well. In the future, parents with sick children may be able to stay home and care for loved ones. And healthcare employers may offer teleworking as an option that reduces the load on a hospital’s infrastructure.

Some of the Most Common Teleworking Jobs in Healthcare

Health Information Specialist:
If a health information specialist has access to a broadband connection, they can easily log into their hospital’s systems from home. Once a hospital figures out how to provide the worker with patient records, they can enter it all into the database.

Nurse Case Manager:
This position is essentially an administrative job that ensures that patients receive proper care. The case manager can consult with doctors, nurses, and the patient via phone and email to stay on top of the situation.

Medical Director:
This position often involves directing treatment and creating medical protocols for medical teams. Thus, their job doesn’t always require an on-site presence. A medical director could work from home and administer multiple facilities simultaneously.

Medical Coder:
Billing and processing medical claims is a job that’s already relegated to a desk and a computer. That means it can be easily performed from home. With a decent broadband connection, medical coding can easily be done remotely.

Home-Based Physician:
When patients are critical enough to warrant regular monitoring, but not so dire as to require a hospital stay, home-based physicians can monitor care from afar. Patients may receive hands-on treatment from on-site nurses or loved ones, while the physician oversees via teleconferencing technology or even phone.

Patient Advocate:
These professionals perform a consultancy function and thus don’t need to be on-site to ensure that their patients receive proper care. They can receive all medical records via email and discuss cases via phone or email.

Why Might This Be A Perfect Time to Go Back to Online School?

COVID-19 has sent many of us home. While you might have moved your duties to a remote, electronic medium, you may still end up with extra time on your hands. Your social life is sadly curtailed, but then so is your commute time. You can look at this as extra time that you can exploit for online classes.

Online learning is not only a great way to get ahead in your career, but it’s a way to add educational enrichment to your idle time. After all, it would be great to emerge from quarantine with a new skill, such as computer programming or a new language, or a head full of knowledge about history or literature. While everyone else is watching silly shows about drug fiends who love tigers, you can fill your mind with intellectual bounty.

If you decide to add a new healthcare degree to your resume, you can get started by finding an online healthcare administration program. Depending on your current level of education, you should look for online programs that are offered by reputable schools with full accreditation. There are many different degrees to pursue. Here is a short list:

Master of Healthcare Administration:
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in healthcare or even a business-related field, this is a great time to up your game with a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA). This master’s degree will focus your administrative acumen on the specific needs of the healthcare industry.

Healthcare Informatics:
This field is where information technology meets healthcare. Since patient information is vital to the accurate and effective delivery of clinical care, the field needs the very best technical workers. You can pursue this degree online. Get started now during this time of social distancing and you’ll be prepared for a career that you can continue to pursue from home.

Bachelor of Healthcare Administration:
Maybe you already have an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree in a different field. You can return to school and complete an undergraduate diploma in healthcare administration.

Additional Free Educational Courses, Called MOOCs

There are many free and affordable MOOC resources available for those who wish to expand their minds during this time of social distancing. Many have even opened up their courses for a free trial period to help the millions now stuck home due to COVID-19. This is a great time to take advantage of these terrific educational resources that can help you expand your mind, and perhaps help you level-up your career, too.

One of the first MOOC schools out there was Khan Academy. Their free online courses cover basic math skills all the way to finance and capital markets. While their focus is primarily on elementary and secondary education, you can take courses to help prepare you to take the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and other entrance exams.

EdX and Coursera are two other outlets that provide free courses from top universities. While you will need to pay for the courses if you’d like college credit or a certificate, you can always play along for free and enrich yourself while in quarantine. Coursera offers a range of health courses, including Healthcare Management, while EdX has courses that cover topics such as Medical Terminology and Leadership in Healthcare.

If you can afford to pay a little, Udemy’s online courses are affordable and asynchronous. While EdX and Coursera’s offerings have specific start/stop times, you can study nearly any subject on Udemy starting today. Udemy does not offer college credit, but you can still brush up on skills such as computer programming, graphic design, mindfulness, and mathematics, among countless others.