But it’s not just about medical care. At a time when people are afraid and uncertain, they’re turning to the healthcare system for authoritative, clear, and accurate information though even front-line medical staff have their own concerns.
The scale of this crisis is unknown and will stretch hospital resources to the limit. It raises tough questions about how to find space for the expected surge of patients and how to manage and care for them. All hospital leaders should plan alternative care models to serve patients while preventing contagion and protecting staff. Many organizations are designating specific floors and units to care for COVID-19 patients only. Emergency rooms are working to separate patients who present with coronavirus symptoms. Caregiver teams can be similarly segmented to cut off further risks of transmission within the hospital and the wider community.
Patients aren’t the only concern for hospitals — healthcare workers also need support. They’re most concerned about having available personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to safely care for patients. Honest communication about supplies available, controlled use plans to ensure those needing PPE have it, and actions to work with local and state resources to obtain additional PPE are needed.
Hospital leaders also need to devise innovative ways to support their front-line caregivers who are facing long hours and troublesome stress. Leaders could:
- Offer temporary housing for medical staff who reside with vulnerable family members.
- Provide meals to families of hospital caregivers who can’t get home. Leverage available grocery delivery applications.
- Increase leader presence during rounds for all shifts to assure clinicians feel supported and understand hospital plans to manage through the pandemic. Have a well-communicated plan in place for clinicians who need extra emotional support.
- Show small acts of kindness to hospital caregivers by providing small amenities such as prewrapped goodies, sandwiches, and beverages.
Hospitals play a vital role as a source of stability and authority in their communities. They should adopt a proactive communications strategy, providing factual information through hospital websites and email outreach with a direct link to the information on the website. It’s vitally important to assure the information is kept up to date and is easy for the general public to understand.
Providing accurate information is especially important in the social media era when misinformation about the disease and government policies is being widely disseminated. Two of the most widely shared medical falsehoods are that gargling with salt water or vinegar will prevent infection from COVID-19 and people who don’t have the disease can hold their breath for 10 seconds.
To head off overcrowded emergency rooms, hospitals should reinforce the message that not everyone who has COVID-19 needs treatment. There’s no cure for this disease yet; the best hospitals can do is provide care for those patients who develop the most serious symptoms and advise others that the best course of action will be to stay at home, self-isolate, rest, and let COVID-19 run its course.
Many organizations and doctor offices are using telemedicine to reduce the number of people leaving their homes for medical care. Hospitals that have been proactive in implementing video and email doctor visits and other telemedicine services in recent years will have a head start in fighting COVID-19. Others will be forced to catch up fast.