Hardly a week goes by without a health system leader telling us about an initiative that’s been “put on hold because of COVID”.
The range of things delayed by the pandemic is wide, from major facility expansions to incremental changes in organizational structure and operational processes. But in general, there’s a growing list of action items—many of them critical—that health systems have been putting off. Across last year we heard that many had plans to return to those items in early 2021, once the COVID situation eased. But of course, the past two months have been the busiest of the pandemic so far, and now the challenge of vaccine rollout has been layered on top of the day-to-day task of maintaining care delivery amid persistently high levels of COVID hospitalizations.
With a protracted, uneven immunization campaign, and worrisome variants on the rise, there may yet be another surge of cases and hospitalizations in the spring, which will cause systems to further delay important projects. That’s not all bad news—surely some will realize that what seemed urgent pre-COVID is no longer necessary.
We’ve already had a few leaders tell us that COVID has forced a rethink of capital plans, with facility expansions likely scaled back in favor of faster investment in digital care delivery. But it’s worth remembering that COVID didn’t just cause hospital systems to delay or cancel non-emergent surgeries and procedures (to the tune of $20B last year). It’s forced these large, complex businesses into a state of suspended animation, and likely set back a significant number of needed operational improvements. It’ll take some time to catch up when this is all over.