The Covid crisis has exposed flaws and weaknesses in the healthcare system. If the pandemic showed us one thing, it is that healthcare is more than just treating patients.
Medical personnel did the job that they were trained for. What failed was the support system.
The system was confronted with insufficient capacity, dysfunctional supply chains and inadequate equipment. Financing and insurance coverage is a separate debate all together.
A portion of these problems could have been avoided with better management and training, standardized processes, quality standards and accountability.
The capability of doctors and nurses in treating and caring for patients was not the issue during the pandemic. They went over and beyond the expectations. The health system was overwhelmed and nearly collapsed, making it practically impossible for health professionals to do their jobs. A shortage of personal protective equipment endangered the lives of first responders and doctors alike, and insufficient supplies of medication and machines exacerbated the situation.
Strengthening administrative and digital processes would be a first step in being better prepared for future crises. CONEDIG, a non-profit Consortium of Educational Institutions in Digital Health, is helping to further develop Telemedicine and eHealth. New degrees like a masters in healthcare administration are broadening their curriculum to include strategy, data-driven decision making and negotiating, developments that should be embraced and encouraged. Coordinating supplies and smart logistics are as important as the work that medics deliver.
Covid-19 did not take authorities by surprise. For over a century everyone knew that we could get hit by a pandemic, even Hollywood. But just like Christmas where everybody knows 365 days in advance that it is coming and everyone waits until the last day to do their shopping, no one really took action until it was too late.
If at any point in the last few decades someone had written a little handbook on standard procedures that should be followed in case of a pandemic, like the thousands of others we have for every imaginable eventuality, then we would not have been in such a dire situation as we are in today. We might have even avoided politicising a deadly virus.
For something as trivial as tomato sauce, there are pages defining the different grades and standards. If you want to put a bottle of tomato sauce on a supermarket shelf there are a thousand things to prove and consider, but if you want to sell a mask that is intended to protect the user from a potentially deadly virus, you just have to make it look good.
There is no office or institution asking a seller for any proof that their facemask will provide the least amount of protection before making it available to the public. There are no regulations to guide producers and consumers through such a situation. As a consumer I cannot be sure if a product will actually protect me, or even worse, harm me – which brings us to my next point.
The first casualty of war is the truth.
The first casualty of this pandemic was accountability.
The confusion caused by conflicting messages has led to unnecessary suffering and economic damage. Science and health is not a matter of opinion, belief or personal rights.
No one would question a drunken driver’s share of blame in a traffic accident and no one would object to a smoker being thrown out of a kindergarten.
We need accountable leaders and experts to tell us what we are facing and how to encounter it.
If a shop or restaurant owner knowingly ignores health guidelines and people get sick, then they should be held responsible; if someone forces or encourages you to ignore safety precautions, then they should be held liable, making them think twice before voicing opinions.
The flaws in the global health system are neither new nor a result of the pandemic.
If authorities do not learn lessons from this pandemic, we run the danger of being exposed to an even worse catastrophe next round.