As the new year begins, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we learned and how we can move forward to an even better future. This is especially true this year, as we transition together into a new normal of life post-COVID-19. We spoke with Northwell Health’s President and CEO, Michael Dowling, to hear his thoughts on what 2021 has in store for the health care industry.
Despite everything 2020 brought, what is the 2021 outlook?
Next year will undoubtedly be a year of transition. We will still be in the COVID world, but we should have a different attitude about it and be realistic with expectations. The first part of the year will focus on managing the situation; two situations actually.
First, COVID cases will continue to increase at this pace unless we do our part — wearing masks, social distancing and proper hand washing — to minimize the spread. We will also be managing the delivery of the vaccines.
The rollout will not be quick. It is a marathon. And when you consider that there are 70 million people working in essential jobs — teachers, day care staff, corrections officers, US postal workers and public transit workers — we may be looking at June before the vaccine is available to the general public and we start to see some sense of normalcy.
You always have an optimistic view. Will there be a new “normal”?
When I think of 2021, I think of opportunity — to reimagine what we want our lives and professions to be — not just as a result of what happened to us, but of how we reacted to it.
We can all make this change. Ask yourself, what do you want to be? How do you want it organized? What kind of structural changes will you make? What do you want to focus on?
Regardless of your answers, the key is to forget what your pre-COVID world was and focus on your future.
What will factor into advancing health care?
For health care, these areas will have most precedence in 2021.
- Enhance productivity and become more efficient: It’s tremendously awkward to say, but one of the “best” things to come out of COVID has been our ability to accelerate productivity, be more efficient and adaptable. Next year, most health systems will still be recovering from the pandemic’s financial impacts, especially the safety-net hospitals. We need to build on the lessons we have learned.
- Accelerate the digital age: COVID has changed our relationships with technology. Ninety-percent of the meetings I have today are through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The amazing thing is most of us had never used Zoom before COVID. And the convenience offered by telemedicine and virtual care has improved our customer focus and quality. This will be a big arm of care delivery from now on.
- Identify what quality means and seek it: It’s time to reassess. Health care delivery is going to be different. If you talk to providers, they will equate quality primarily with clinical outcomes. But for consumers, it’s service and convenience. There needs to be a balance.
- Accommodate the remote workforce: Speaking of technology, I believe 10-15 percent of our workforce will be remote, even after COVID. A large portion already is right now. I did not expect this months ago. The main issue will be to decide what part of your workforce should be remote, as well as identify ways to manage and monitor it. What does a remote workforce do to your real estate? You have to look at everything. At Northwell, we manage buildings that accommodated thousands of people and they are now mostly empty with team members working at home. It’s a big part of our assessment process for the post-pandemic situation.
- Culturally, become as innovative as we were pre-COVID: Moving forward, we need to incentivize the innovative DNA within our organizations that was obvious during COVID. Do not lose steam and maintain a positive, team-oriented culture, which is very important in the midst of all this change, especially as we go remote. We can’t lose that perspective. A hybrid of in-person and remote can lend itself to much-needed balance.
- Deal with inequities of care: We must go upstream. New partnerships are changing the way we operate. And our expanded focus on healing our most vulnerable communities will continue in 2021, and well beyond. We need to get our employees, doctors and other team members to commit to this agenda, then develop long-term reasonable strategies.
What’s in store for health care as a profession?
Health care is always a rewarding field to get into. But the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted just how critical these jobs are.
Doctors, nurses, environmental services and security workers were celebrated for working the front lines and putting themselves at risk on a daily basis. Their sacrifices, dedication and compassion are truly what makes them remarkable as individuals, as well as the work they do. I’m very proud of all of them.
Building off of that momentum, this remains an exciting time to join health care, especially at Northwell Health, where we were recently ranked No. 65 on Glassdoor’s 100 best places to work list (Northwell is also one of Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work For). Our team members are engaged and eager to help lead us out of this crisis.