For healthcare executives, navigating the ever-changing regulatory landscape has always been challenging. In the age of COVID-19, those challenges have grown exponentially. In many instances, healthcare leaders have thrown out their existing playbooks and created new ones on the fly to accommodate today’s global health crisis.
Dr. Steven G. Ullmann, Chairman of the Department of Health Management and Policy and Director and professor at the Center for Health Management and Policy at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, recently conducted a webinar for healthcare executives on the challenges associated with running a healthcare system in the wake of a pandemic.
Dr. Ullmann, who also serves as academic chair of the Executive MBA in Health Management & Policy at Miami Herbert Business School, pointed out that managing healthcare systems is multifaceted in that healthcare executives are dealing with a wide range of stakeholders that include: A diverse and frightened patient population, their families, and healthcare providers, not to mention the emotional and financial impact the disease has on each of those groups.
He also addressed ethical considerations in light of the lack of hospital beds, protective equipment and testing options. “If there’s a lack of protective gear… are workers then still required to be at a patient’s bedside?” he asked. “Who gets the scarce ICU beds. Very tough choices are going to have to be made.”
At a time when healthcare workers are needed the most, healthcare executives also are grappling with matters relating to whether symptomatic workers should stay at home, and how to assist those with unmet needs, such as childcare, so that they can come to work.
Dr. Ullmann addressed the value proposition of healthcare. He noted that because South Florida is one of the most expensive communities in the country for healthcare, patients expect to get a lot of value for the money. And, while providers are doing what they can do to provide excellent care, Ullmann noted: “When patients are coming in and feeling isolated from their family members and loved ones, the experience of care indeed diminishes.”
In addition to patients and healthcare workers, Dr. Ullmann discussed the financial challenges that healthcare facilities are facing in the wake of the pandemic. It’s a double edge-sword. Many healthcare facilities are incurring significant costs and either are not being reimbursed at a high enough rate to off-set those costs, or are not able to collect payments from patients, therefore incurring debt. While all of this is happening, they are having to put elective procedures on hold.
“The average operating margin for a hospital in this country is 2.3 percent, and you start cutting into that revenue flow. You start increasing bad debt and charity care. You’re going to see a lot of healthcare organizations in very significant difficulty very, very quickly,” said Ullmann.
There are no easy answers, noted Dr. Ullmann.
“The great ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky said that you skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been. We have to think in terms of where all of this is going and be prepared for it as we go forward.”