Healthcare Hurries Up and Waits

Regular—and revenue producing—procedures were still 30 percent below pre-Covid levels for healthcare providers. Now they must get passed the delta variant. 


Over the last 16 months, hospitals, medical device makers, and other healthcare organizations have seen all their problems around costs, service delivery, and staffing exacerbated by the pandemic. Experts say the industry is intent on fixing those issues, except the pandemic keeps getting in the way.

“The workforce composition, the cost structure, the delivery of care—all that has to change,” says Greg Button, president of Global Healthcare Services at Korn Ferry. “But at the top of everyone’s mind is how do we handle this COVID surge differently this time around?”

Indeed, healthcare leaders are remaining focused on treating COVID-19. Virus-related hospitalizations, which had started declining with the broad accessibility of vaccines, have soared back thanks to the considerably more contagious delta variant. This week, Florida reported that the state has a record number of people in the hospital for COVID care, while Louisiana and other states are seeing COVID-related hospitalizations at their highest levels since January.

Ironically, the entire pandemic has shown healthcare leaders have to adopt procedures that allow them to operate effectively with fewer patients actually coming to the hospital. Yes, the virus sent waves of people to the hospital for emergency care, which put a heavy financial burden on hospitals. At the same time, however, the virus forced the cancellation of millions of regular checkups, elective surgeries, and other procedures; all of which are key sources of revenue for both providers and device makers.

Those non-COVID procedures are still about 30% below pre-pandemic levels in some cases, curtailing some providers’ ability to bounce back financially. “You have fixed costs that you can’t run all the patients through at the rate you were before,” Button says. Telemedicine, where healthcare providers can deliver care to patients remotely, will likely help. Some leaders want to implement it at scale but either don’t have the financial ability or the management focus right now to do so.

Then there’s the staffing issue. Healthcare already was experiencing a shortage of clinical personnel; COVID has only made it worse. The pandemic has taught the industry that certain care can be delivered effectively by physician assistants. Providers have been able to implement them on an ad hoc basis, but rejiggering processes and workforces takes time. Hospitals also often need government regulators or insurance firms to sign off on making those moves permanent. “You have to do it properly,” Button says, or the healthcare provider could inadvertently trigger billing issues or, in the worst case, create billing fraud. Yet with everyone focused on COVID, experts say there’s little appetite or time to address the issue now.

Finally, leaders realize that to adopt new procedures and policies, they have to demonstrably prove that what they are selling both improves a patient’s health and is cheaper, says David Vied, global sector leader for Korn Ferry’s Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice. But many of those leaders are bogged down with their own COVID-related issues and challenges around the supply chain and sourcing raw materials. “There’s so much stuff to think about,” Vied says.

Fortunately, one of the improvement areas providers have been able to implement is disaster planning. When COVID first spread across the Untied States, hospitals were overwhelmed with virus-afflicted patients, a difficult challenge by itself made even tougher because doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff members also were getting sick and had to self-isolate. Leaders have learned how to transfer non-COVID patients elsewhere, set up quarantined areas, reassign staff, and even train some employees quickly with the essentials of COVID care. Now, even as the delta variant surges across many parts of the country, fewer hospitals are on the brink. “Hospitals still can do elective procedures and keep healthy people safe,” Button says.