COVID-19: The Case for Propelling Healthcare Forward

COVID-19 Propelling Healthcare Forward - Canton & Company

Life is always interesting. Just a few months ago I was living through the bitter disappointment of the Baltimore Ravens losing a heavily favored playoff game to the Tennessee Titans. Today, I’m sheltering in place wondering when the grocery store will get another shipment of toilet paper and canned soup.

COVID-19 has accelerated more rapidly than any other event we have experienced — it is a calamity that is gripping the entire world with the healthcare industrial complex on the front lines of the pandemic.

As leaders of healthcare organizations, it is imperative that we try to take time to ponder how we identify and use the lessons we are learning from this crisis. Perhaps the most important lesson is that we must be better prepared to deal with the unexpected, as something is bound to happen again and our ability to respond can be the difference between a controllable problem and a crisis.

There are other lessons, too. Some are right in front of us and others are hidden around corners, requiring deeper exploration. With both worthy of consideration, we’ve developed a short list of impacts for your organization to contemplate as part of your business continuity efforts.


The implications of how, where, and when we work are going to be changed forever. We’re already in a massive global movement to a “gig economy.” Evolving trends are making workers more distributed and more independent. New models are being deployed to help them manage their careers. The World Economic Forum recently predicted that 40 percent of US workers will be independent contractors by 2026.

With the forced movement of workers to home, one potential consequence may be that we find home-based and distributed workers are actually more productive, happier, and more aligned with the missions of our organizations. While it’s not a model for every business, it compels us to rethink how we empower our teams.

Use this time to re-evaluate how to amp your people power.

Holistic health.

We are all under stress. Some of us are finding our jobs at risk, or worse, as some have been dislocated from jobs, solely due to the economic impacts COVID-19. As of this writing, unemployment rates have hit the highest level since the Department of Labor began tracking them in the 1970s. We are self-imposing isolation, with many infected by the virus and now quarantined. During this time, it is important to ensure that we are reinforcing important health messages: sleep and eat well, exercise, and be cognizant of our physical and mental health. Relative to the latter, we know this perfect storm is affecting emotional and mental health.

Build a plan to address testing, screening, and identification of behavioral health issues, and to support friends, families, and team members who are struggling.

Risk management and scenario planning.

We’ve entered a new paradigm, where we must be planning for all kinds of risks. I wonder how many hospital boards directed their management teams to plan for a scenario event remotely as debilitating as COVID-19? One of the core jobs of a hospital chief operating officer is to support management in preparing for the unknown. COVID-19 is hitting all industries in many ways: financial, workforce, supply chain, operations, communications, technology, disaster recovery, business continuity, etc.

Do you have a planning process that addresses the scope and scale of potential risks?  It’s time to put that in place.

Communication and governance.

As we respond to the pandemic, we have to ask ourselves if we have the systems in place to fully activate our teams, to communicate to all staff and stakeholders, to mobilize our response. How have we involved our Board members and what could we have done differently? How quickly were we able to message to our customers — to support them, address their needs, and use their input to make course corrections in our approach? It will be required that we rethink our entire communications strategy, especially as it relates to crisis.

Board members in every organization should demand a post-event review and planning session related to ensuring our organizations are better prepared the next time something like this happens.

There is no room for maybe — we must plan for the next unexpected and unprecedented event immediately.

Regulatory relief.

We applaud our policymakers for allowing industry to scale quickly to serve the needs of our citizens during this crisis. For example, we have seen the lessening of arcane rules limiting the use of telehealth and provider licensing across state lines, relief on certificate of need rules to allow rapid expansion of new access points, and others. Private industry has responded to the administration’s call to repurpose their people, processes and resources to address the crisis — a rapid mobilization and response to our national needs.

We expect these regulatory effects will produce stellar outcomes and will call into question the reason for the original policies in the first place. Once the crisis is over, hopefully we use this experience to maintain commonsense regulation and eliminate the vast array of regulations that detract from our ability to serve those in need.

You have to wonder how things would be different if Medicare had started paying for telehealth or remote services 10 years ago.


While there’s an entire segment of companies that refer to themselves (or will start to) as telehealth, I wonder if this crisis isn’t going to commoditize that segment. In other words, won’t video interaction become table stakes in healthcare, like it is in most other industry segments? If it wasn’t already clear, every provider in the world now must think about serving their customers holistically. Every provider and every technology, service, or process vendor that supports them needs to have embedded video as a core capability.

Let’s stop calling it telehealth. It’s holistic health, which requires the technology to meet customers where they are, with convenience and competence that engenders customer loyalty.

“Business-as-usual” may change forever.

A colleague messaged me saying he never wants to go back to business as usual. What he is reacting to is our choice to use this moment to step up and test new approaches. Sometimes failures will happen, but when they do the most important thing is to learn from it and move on. This will be a major lesson for leaders across our economy, but especially in healthcare.

At Canton & Company we use huddles and flexible collaboration tools to drive on-demand improvement in our business. It helps us serve clients at a high-level, engage prospects effectively, and ensure that our teammates have what they need to keep going. It’s an important question to ask yourself. How will your business change its business as usual?

Supply chain.

Everyone is seemingly dealing with supply chain issues. We’re facing some now and others are coming. For example, we are all fighting to get PPE to healthcare workers, but what about the impending shortages of hospital beds? What impact has state certificate of need laws had on that? What about access to tests? As the wealthiest country in the world, why weren’t we better prepared to test for exposure more quickly? Finally, it’s becoming apparent that our over-reliance on foreign producers of key drugs, supplies, parts, and other material has hampered our response.

All of these issues should be on the table to address as a part of a mission critical post-mortem — and this has to happen now.

To summarize, the most important thing we can do now is focus on the future and ensure that we are equipped to take on a similar crisis not if, but when, it occurs again. We must work to improve trust and communication between health leaders. We must also take the best practices emerging from this crisis and ensure they propel us forward — we cannot afford to go backwards. There is no time to dwell on how unprepared we were, but we do have the ability to prevent this from ever happening again.