As we are midway into the year 2021, our battle against Covid-19 continues with all strength, while the pandemic fights back with equal viciousness.
There is no denying that healthcare workers of Bangladesh have done a commendable job in managing Covid-19 pandemic. Our healthcare system is pushing new boundaries, looking for new ways to combat the situation, as we are driven by the need to find long-term solutions while also maximising healthcare outreach with the least amount of virus spread.
Now the time has come to push the coverage even further to reinforce our local healthcare system against any upcoming repercussions of the virus - and any other situation that may arise in the future.
One of the most pressing concerns is getting the healthcare system back on its feet and creating a viable environment for stable growth.
While doing so, we must consider the unique but ever-changing external macro-indicators over which we do not always have much control, and plan accordingly.
The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how outpatient care is delivered in health care facilities in Bangladesh, as it has in the rest of the world.
Providers are deferring elective and preventive visits, such as annual physicals, to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to patients or health care workers within their practice.
When possible, they are also converting in-person visits to telemedicine visits. Many patients, for their part, are avoiding visits because they do not want to leave their homes and risk being exposed.
The evolving local and state recommendations for lockdown restricting travel and non-essential services are also influencing both provider and patient behaviour.
One such need which has become significantly pertinent is augmented home health care service delivery. Facilities with their focus extensively on gearing resources from hospital to customers (home/office/neighbourhood) will be the future.
Creating an efficient trained tech-savvy manpower pool, mainly in the form of nurses, patient care attendants, lab technologists, and even enabling volunteers by training them for basic health check-ups and monitoring, would be important to creating a sustainable healthcare service delivery model to cater to the increasing load of covid patients of varying severity.
From home sample collection to home health monitoring to home medicine delivery, all will be part of an efficient home care service model that is relevant for such times, paving the way for the country's healthcare horizon to expand in this new normal.
Furthermore, establishing E-clinics in good-footfall areas in localities, such as local chemist shops, educational institution campuses, priority banking lounges, or shopping malls, to impart tele-health to the local community, would serve as a trailblazer in providing a convenient medical solution to meet current and future needs.
Another requirement of the time is to concentrate on having single specialty centers – where each specialty will be treated in designated medical centers only.
The popular concept of a multispecialty facility with assembled clinical services under one roof does not hold true in many cases in this pandemic reality, given the risk of cross-infection spread and the financial viability of manpower and asset deployment at different paced revenue-generating SBUs.
This concept of a single specialty center is not new; an increasing number of healthcare systems, particularly in the West, are adopting it, and the quality and quantity of specialty services have increased significantly as a result. These can be effective in terms of saving time and money while also building a strong, cohesive, and integrated medical ecosystem.
We can use single specialty centers to build on the gains already made, by the multispecialty private hospitals of the country. In Bangladesh, where demand for advanced tertiary care is already high among local patients, the time is ripe for such centers.
We can even use such models to attract medical tourists, as this bodes well for the medical tourism industry, highlighting the need for Bangladesh to further strengthen its healthcare system to include the most recent innovations designed to reduce costs and promote convenience.
In this regard, single specialty centers, as well as standalone surgical centers, will play an important role in meeting the upcoming demand.
With the increase in life expectancy of the country (now 72 years), the elderly population is gradually rising as well.
They bring with them a higher demand for chronic disease treatment, such as cardiac and diabetes care, which would necessitate intensive tertiary care.
The single specialty model will further cut down hospital visits of patients and thus protect them from infection risk of non-related specialties.
This will again encourage an integrated healthcare system where such medical centers can connect with hospitals to share a patient's medical history and monitor it when needed.
Using technology as a vital tool to help unify medical records, patients can have access to personalised care allowing predictive health.
A patient identification should be sufficient for doctors to access medical and family history, eliminating the need for the patient to visit hospitals numerous times.
A single point of contact could be the GP or family physician who can manage the patient's health through the monitoring devices with a proper referral mechanism to specialty centers.
Patients will visit the hospital only for surgical procedures, while the post-operation and maintenance will be the job of the family physician.
The high cost of treatment is one of the most significant challenges we face today, which can be mitigated through collaborative efforts, and this is where strong public-private partnerships will be crucial.
Involving public entities in tie-ups with private healthcare institutions can also reap great dividends. One such example is how Germany tied up with Lufthansa Airlines, which offered various promotional packages for medical tourism for inbound patients to Germany.
In short, innovation combined with convenience is the way to go forward. The changing economic dynamics of the new normal necessitate a rethinking of our healthcare system, drawing inspiration from other countries around the world.
Dr Shagufa Anwar is a health communication specialist and brand marketer, having experience of more than 2 decades of working as a C-suite Executive in country's leading pharmaceutical companies and renowned top level private hospitals; she can be contacted at [email protected].
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.