Organizations and ED staff have been coping with the real-time effects of COVID-19, but are facing even bigger challenges in the long run.
As COVID-19 persists longer than expected, the line between short- and long-term effects is becoming a bit blurred. However, one thing is certain: The disruption is ongoing and won’t be over for a long while.
The COVID pandemic abruptly ushered in a new normal. Here are some of the ways things have changed:
Staffing: Traditional scheduling and rigid shifts haven’t been adequate for managing demand capacity. Short-term COVID-19 staffing issues have dealt with surge capacity and the ability to handle a full hospital and emergency department (ED).
Rapid need for capacity: As hospitals near capacity, they have to creatively expand by opening up closed units and repurposing outpatient areas. As cases have fluctuated, some wards have become strictly COVID-19 units only to need regrouping and restructuring as cases subside.
Equipment needs: COVID-19 has brought a surge of ventilator patients, often more than hospitals are equipped to handle. This has led to innovative agreements and a surge in equipment manufacture.
Decreased non-COVID visit numbers: Contrary to popular belief, ED visits in 2020 were down overall. Patients chose to avoid health care as much as possible, delaying needed treatment.
As the country’s EDs find themselves well into the second year and who-knows-which wave of the pandemic, longer-term trends are emerging.
- Staffing. In the longer term, organizations are seeing more nursing staff shortages due to quarantines, burnout, early retirements, and lateral career changes to less stressful positions. Respiratory therapy is experiencing similar shortages for the same reasons. Some organizations are seeing staff leave because of vaccine mandates. In rural areas, where it already is difficult to attract and retain doctors, nurses, and administrators, the challenges are even more pronounced.
- Physician burnout. One year into the pandemic, a survey of EM physicians in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine revealed that 74.7% of respondents reported burnout since the start of the pandemic. Contributing factors listed are work-related emotional stress and anxiety, isolation from family, and increased workload. Lack of support by employers and dissatisfaction with patient-care resources were also cited.
- Continuing capacity challenges. At the beginning of the pandemic, the basic way capacity was addressed was to just open it all up and hope for the best. Most organizations were in a reactive mode, trying to operate in a crisis. As time has passed, lessons have been learned and organizations are developing better strategies to reduce and expand capacity and staff as needed. While ED volumes have begun to increase, greater volatility in both volume and case mix remain, requiring a new data-driven approach to align capacity more precisely with demand.
Addressing COVID Challenges With Emergency Medicine Performance Analytics
After considering all of these COVID-19 responses in the ED, it has become apparent that short-term staffing and demand capacity issues are morphing into longer-term issues that are even more widespread and difficult to handle.
How can organizations get ahead of this reactive mode and move into proactive planning? Demand capacity management using the hospital’s own historical data and predictive indicators is one way to regain control. Trusted data and transparency create a culture of support and reliable decision-making in the ED.
d2i’s Emergency Medicine Performance Analytics tools help prevent short-term hurdles from becoming long-term problems. Our cloud-based solutions, in use at more than 300 hospitals in the United States, provide:
- Immediate access to daily volumes by time of day and all related data
- A purpose-built integrated data set that makes analysis by any factor effortless and instantaneous
- A modeling tool that enables the user to change any factor and quickly see the impact
- Multi-variate forecasting to help you anticipate changes in demand and its impact on capacity needs