The entire US healthcare system is planning, preparing, scenario modeling and collaborating to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. It is grappling with serious questions around capacity and equipment, including whether the nation has enough ventilators and protective gear. In this report, PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) found some of the most useful tools the industry will have to manage the pandemic are ones that have developed in recent years, as the industry has digitized and moved toward more retail-focused, value-based models.
HRI does not attempt to lay out what the US healthcare system should do in great detail. Plans are being made and executed. Rather, this report aims to describe six considerations for healthcare organizations as they make and execute their short- and long-term plans.
Several months into the pandemic, it is becoming clear who is most at risk for dying or suffering serious illness—the frail elderly, those with chronic conditions such as respiratory or heart disease, and those who are considered obese. Healthcare providers and payers should understand the special needs and characteristics of these populations in order to help them through the pandemic.
In recent years, alternative sites for care—such as urgent care centers, retail clinics in pharmacies, telehealth services and workplace clinics—have flourished. In a pandemic like COVID-19, with emergency departments already stretched thin, these sites can act like wetlands, helping absorb part of the overflow of patients with and without the illness.
Providers, payers and caregivers should consider retail pharmacies, from national chain stores to independent shops, as crucial links to care, medications and basic supplies for a population quarantining at home or taking up a semi-hermetic lifestyle in hopes of avoiding COVID-19.15 Social distancing can be aided by pharmacies’ drive-through windows, telehealth options and home delivery.
Telehealth may be the most effective first line of access for non-elderly Americans with mild illness who do not suffer from respiratory issues or have other risk factors that may make them more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. It also may create more access to mental health services, and be a way to help prevent patients who already are struggling with chronic illnesses from deferring maintenance care. Telehealth can be a way to convene medical specialists, primary care physicians and others involved in the diagnosis, triage and care of COVID-19 patients, while reducing exposure to the virus. These services also may be a way for quarantined asymptomatic clinicians to work as caseloads increase.
Trust-based relationships are important when people and communities are scared and unsure of what to do. Coalitions developed for pandemic response, much like social determinants of health interventions, should include trusted community organizations and providers that have access to hard-to-serve or underserved communities that may not be able to get information and support from traditional sources such as their employer or local government.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the US medical supply chain’s reliance on foreign manufacturing facilities. The FDA is at the center of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its choices in the weeks ahead could allow more companies to address critical needs, from diagnostic tests and materials to ventilators, but also slow down business for other parts of the industry.
Partner, Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Consulting Solutions Leader, PwC US
Health Services Consulting Solutions leader, PwC US