Four Immediate Results of a Dead Stop in Healthcare

We’re in the midst of a health crisis. And yet, oddly enough, healthcare has come to a halt in many ways. Dental offices are closed. People are staying away from their doctors. Emergency rooms are deadly quiet. Outside of the intense activity required to save the lives of people suffering severe encounters with COVID-19, healthcare is at a dead stop.

The result has been a stunning loss of jobs, needless deaths, poorer health, and innovation borne out of necessity.

Lost Jobs

All of the headlines about historic job losses in April glossed over a gobsmacking impact on healthcare. Almost one and a half million jobs in healthcare disappeared in the middle of a health crisis. Bam. Just when people need the care that these jobs deliver, the jobs disappeared.

Most of those job losses (one million)  were in ambulatory services – everything related to outpatient procedures and visits. Doctors offices shed a quarter of a million jobs. Dental offices lost a half million. Health insurance jobs were not so much affected. Denying claims for care takes a lot of effort.

Combine these job losses with the broader picture of job losses in the U.S. and that adds up to a lot of people losing healthcare. In part, that’s because all those people losing their jobs mostly depend on their employers for their health insurance. So when the Guardian says that this virus is exposing America’s broken healthcare, we have to admit they are right.

Needless Deaths

So people are going without healthcare that they need. As a result, they are dying at home from strokes and heart attacks that, a few months ago, would not have been fatal. Dr. Abhineet Chowdhary describes a patient who had “the worst headache of her life” but delayed going to the hospital for almost a week. It was a stroke:

As a result, she had multiple other strokes and ended up passing away. This is something that most of the time we’re able to prevent.

CDC reports a spike in deaths over and above the number directly counted as COVID-19 deaths as the virus swept through New York City, for example. In Italy, researchers documented a significant increase in patients, who never came to a hospital because of COVID-19,  dying from cardiac arrests .

Diminished Health

Chronic diseases – such as obesity and its complications – require chronic care to prevent acute crises. But as visits to healthcare providers are delayed, that chronic care is delayed and inevitably, we will see chronic health problems snowball into heart attacks and other avoidable events. When people have access to care for chronic health problems, they live longer and enjoy better health. With a dead stop in healthcare, we can be sure that the opposite will happen.

Innovation by Necessity

The one bright spot in all of this terrible situation is the innovation it sparks. Healthcare is famously resistant to adopting new technology. But telemedicine has gone from languishing to flourishing as a result of the pandemic. Jay Mazel, a cardiac electrophysiologist in Washington, DC, says it’s been a surprising boon:

Even though it’s brand new for my patients — who tend to be older — and their doctor, they love it and so do I.

No doubt, other, more subtle innovations will come from this crisis.

But we must come back to the bigger picture. Will this health crisis bring us to reconsider the fundamentally broken way in which we deliver care? If our healthcare systems come to a full stop and deliver less care in response to a health crisis, then those systems desperately need repair.

Click here for more on healthcare employment. For more about how COVID-19 is exposing the brokenness of healthcare systems, click here, here, and here.

Stop! Photograph © Schnitzel_bank / flickr

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May 17, 2020

2 Responses to “Four Immediate Results of a Dead Stop in Healthcare”

  1. May 17, 2020 at 1:10 pm, Angela Golden said:

    Thank you for this posting this morning. I had no idea of the healthcare jobs being lost. This is indeed an incredibly scary stat.

  2. May 18, 2020 at 4:11 am, Mary-Jo said:

    The expertise of HCPs is the best or at the top, for sure, among countries, After living in many countries with universal healthcare, it emphasized to me, even more, how truly ‘uneven’ access to and delivery of healthcare is for Americans. It’s not just that so many people are dependent on their employers for medical insurance, thus enabling many to fall through the cracks for any attention or proper care, but the infrastructure for healthcare — facilities-wise, flexibility to adjust, ability to be sustained — really suffers when most dependent on privatized sources and support, and now, clearly manifesting in this crisis. Obamacare was far from perfect, needing intense review, revamping, but was a great ‘start’ to the USA finding that middle ground to deliver and sustain healthcare for all. To throw it out completely would be a shame.