Philips' chief medical officer discusses the impact Covid-19 could be having on young healthcare workers - including the increased uptake of telehealth
Ten months after the Covid-19 pandemic began to sweep across the world, healthcare workers are still fighting – and dying – to help save the lives of severely ill patients infected with the virus. Jan Kimpen, chief medical officer at Dutch healthtech giant Philips, breaks down the company’s recent Future Health Index Insights report and discusses what impact this may have had on younger healthcare workers.
When the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic first came to light, my thoughts turned to how to help save those affected by this deadly virus.
Just how far-reaching its impact was quickly became clear: many people with other diseases and conditions were now facing delayed appointments, surgeries and other kinds of care.
With a rapidly increasing death toll and ever more stories of loss and suffering, it struck me just how brutally this crisis had overwhelmed the healthcare system.
In the midst of it all, there is one group that deserves particular attention: those young healthcare professionals who may have embarked on their careers just weeks or months ago, and have had to face far more pressure than they could have anticipated.
Those new to the profession have held a special place in my heart since I began mentoring them many years ago when I worked as a hospital pediatrician.
They have often opened up about the challenges of the role, when they felt worn down by high caseloads, drowning in data and burdened by administrative chores – and this was before Covid-19 hit.
How were young healthcare workers likely to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic?
At Philips, we’ve been closely involved in efforts to tackle the pandemic.
To help shape our understanding of its impact on healthcare, we surveyed hundreds of younger doctors to learn more about their perceptions and experiences of recent months for our latest piece of Future Health Index (FHI) research.
Their responses – detailed in a report titled Future Health Index Insights: Covid-19 and younger healthcare professionals – were both surprising and encouraging: the pandemic has not led to a dramatic increase in younger doctors wanting to leave medicine.
On the contrary, 25% of younger doctors reported a greater level of satisfaction at work, and more than one third said they felt a deeper feeling of purpose at work as a result of their work during the pandemic.
To me, this is an extraordinary finding that highlights the commitment of our young doctors to their patients at a time when a pandemic is impacting public health all over the world.
So, what can healthcare leaders take from our latest piece of FHI 2020 research?
Meeting the challenge
Earlier this year, we published our global report, Future Health Index 2020: The age of opportunity, which revealed that 34% of younger healthcare professionals have considered leaving the profession because of work-related stress.
Encouragingly, our new FHI Insights survey reveals that fewer younger doctors today say that they are likely to leave medicine – 9%, to be precise.
Also, 53% of younger doctors surveyed felt their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic had no impact on their likelihood to stay in or leave medicine, and 38% said they are even more likely to stay in medicine.
These findings are not intended to downplay what has been a challenging time for the entire healthcare sector.
These young doctors and nurses have risked – and even lost – their lives while caring for their patients during this pandemic.
I believe there are valuable lessons that we can learn about better, smarter ways of working that seem to be improving the job satisfaction of younger doctors, as well as the quality of care for their patients.
Uptake of telehealth and digital technologies
For some younger doctors, the pandemic has led to a more collaborative, digitally-enabled and flexible workplace.
Back in March, our global report highlighted these areas as most desirable for younger healthcare professionals when looking for a place to work.
The pandemic has forced improvements in each of these areas, and healthcare leaders should consider how these changes can be maintained.
Almost half – some 44% – of all younger doctors surveyed in our FHI Insights report identified increased collaboration with colleagues across skillsets, and increased exposure to new ways of using digital health technologies, as positive developments.
It’s also notable how Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of virtual care.
From online consultations to tele-ICUs, telehealth has become a key tool in managing a rapidly spreading infection like Covid-19.
Philips, for example, has made available a dedicated scalable telehealth application that facilitates the use of online patient screening and monitoring and is supported by existing call centres.
The application aims to prevent unnecessary visits to general practitioners and hospitals by remotely monitoring the vast majority of Covid-19 patients who are quarantined at home.
The role of data sharing
Data sharing is another area that we are actively working to improve.
In the Netherlands, we have partnered with Erasmus Medical Center, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, and the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport to create an online portal that allows Dutch hospitals to share Covid-19 patient information with one another.
This makes it easy and secure to transfer patient data via the cloud from one hospital to another.
Being able to do so is vital to optimising the use of healthcare resources.
And, since its launch in late March, 95% of Dutch hospitals have already connected to the portal – a process that would have taken years to achieve prior to the pandemic.
Many younger doctors, our FHI Insights research shows, hope that these recent trends will continue after the pandemic, as do I.
A wake-up call for the industry?
As our Future Health Index report found in March, to help keep younger healthcare workers engaged and passionate about their careers, working environments built on flexibility, collaboration, optimised technology and data sharing must be retained long after we’ve stopped the virus’ spread.
The pandemic has shown us that, by following these principles, health systems can provide a better experience for staff and patients alike, even under the most difficult conditions.
By supporting what’s working – collaboration, flexibility and correctly-implemented digital technology – a generation of younger healthcare professionals will be committed and engaged in their work, during the tough times as well as when things are going smoothly.