As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to question what the future may hold from a personal, professional, and economic perspective, especially when considering the virus continues to spread with hospitalization and mortality rates still increasing daily in many areas of the country. Additional lingering concerns:
- Social distancing measures that seem to never end (even though in reality it has been short-lived and these mandates that may interrupt our social interactions are actually saving lives!);
- A pandemic that has somehow become political, creating distrust with our government leaders and swaying local social distancing and mask guidelines;
- The race to develop a vaccine that has had some questioning overall patient safety due to potential lack of necessary research and clinical trials, which are typically quite time-intensive;
- The questionable “cures” touted by our President and other medical professionals in and out of the spotlight;
- The lack of reliable and unbiased news sources with fearmongering at an all-time high; and,
- The constant uncertainty (and fear) of an impending surge nationally and within our own communities.
As our nation prepares for the future, there are some healthcare facilities undergoing planning efforts for “Post-COVID-19” clinics. Associating the word “Post” with COVID-19 seems challenging though, considering various public health experts predict that the US will be strongly affected until at least 2022. COVID-19 patient data continues to be limited due to the short duration of the virus, lack of testing availability and varying turnaround times, and inconsistent data reporting.
However, some preliminary data has shown the reoccurrence of various physical and mental symptoms/challenges, as well as potential long term physical complications, most notably neurological, pulmonary, and cardiac effects. From a cardiac perspective, preliminary studies note the virus’s link to heart-related complications, such as myocarditis. Certainly, additional data and research is necessary to truly understand the correlation between COVID-19 and the long-term physical and mental impact on patients. But at this time, post-COVID-19 clinics being multi-specialty seems to be the trend.
The clinic concept is nothing new to the industry. Consumers can find clinics available to address their singular or multi-specialty needs within or connected to the hospital or even within shopping centers. The clinic itself and its operating model require significant planning related to the community need and volume opportunity, clinic design, capital investment (which can be quite significant) and various operating needs (staffing / FTE requirements, equipment, supplies, etc.), quality monitoring, state and industry laws/guidelines, and finally the ownership structure (joint ownership between hospital and physicians or independently owned/operated by physicians). Clinics can be quite lucrative for key players with a financial stake; therefore, the more specialties within the clinic, means a more complex arrangement requiring a clear understanding of state and STARK laws and involvement of legal counsel.
Clinics can be a smart strategic move for hospitals and physicians alike to not only address patient care needs/increase community awareness, but can also yield significant financial gains through the additional market capture and increased referral base.
Throughout the pandemic, the Corazon team has spoken to countless facilities across the nation that have developed COVID units through various innovative approaches to patient care — some dedicating floors within the hospital and others building new or even transforming existing structures (e.g. parking garages) outside of the hospital walls to manage the various subsets of COVID patients. It was eye opening to talk to healthcare leaders in designated “hot spots” to gain insight into their experiences and the scary reality of the virus’s impact on hospital capacity, supply and equipment shortages, testing availability and the effects on length of stay / patient turnaround, and the truly passionate healthcare workers dedicated to patient care and saving lives.
As the COVID-19 uncertainty continues, severity and prevalence of long-term health related complications may be hard to estimate, but any outcome will benefit from proactive long-term planning. Will healthcare facilities have the long-term bandwidth and overall commitment to provide this post-COVID care? Will CMS reimburse hospitals and providers for post-COVID related treatments/clinics? Will a safe and effective vaccine ever truly be found; and if so, will enough of the general population have trust in its safety to actually receive it?
For now, only time will tell. No doubt science will prevail in developing a vaccine, or at the very least, effective treatment methods for overall symptom management. But, we must all be prepared for the possibility of the potential for long-term post-COVID-19 care…and as more information becomes known, the impact will continue to widen.