The idea of “remote work,” with all its benefits, is not new. The transition to more flexible working arrangements has been gaining momentum for several decades, yet the healthcare sector has been slow to embrace this growing trend. Covid-19 has changed that.
Siemens Healthineers has analyzed this issue and argues that healthcare providers can and should integrate remote work solutions into their operations – not just as a short-term response to Covid-19 but as part of their long-term strategy.
The paper Remote work for healthcare professionals: from a stop-gap measure to a lasting transformation explores this issue in detail and offers practical suggestions on how healthcare providers can manage the transition to increased remote work.
The Business Challenge
The staggering impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is obvious to all of us. While many organizations had the option of shutting down or reducing their services, healthcare providers had no choice: they had to keep working and providing critical services.
The business and operational challenges faced by healthcare providers were, and remain, immense. Pressure on resources and infrastructure has often been overwhelming, while physical risks to employees, other patients and visitors are alarming. In addition, there are very real business challenges: for countless hospitals and providers, revenue has been slashed largely as the result of elective procedures being canceled or postponed. Optimistic business projections have been shelved; instead, survival has become the goal.
We believe that flexible and creative remote work solutions can help to address each of these challenges. Confronted with soaring caseloads, a lethal new virus, and crushing business challenges, exploring remote work options is no longer an exercise in creative brainstorming but an essential business priority.
The Dimensions of Remote Work
Remote work should be understood as a broad and flexible concept. Remote solutions can bridge distances of many kilometers, for example an employee working from home or a surgeon operating robotic equipment while physically located elsewhere. But remote work options can be equally valuable over short distances of even just a few meters.
In the current circumstances, this type of remote work is of particular relevance in order to protect staff. Many healthcare functions such as monitoring, diagnosis or therapy can be performed at such a distance, with new technologies playing an important supporting role.
The Advantages of Remote Work
Remote work offers three crucial advantages – advantages that are vital during times of crisis such as the current pandemic, but that are also longer lasting:
- Improving safety. The most direct benefit of remote work is enhanced safety. Whether an employee is working from an adjacent room or from an off-site location, risks and dangers can be significantly reduced. The danger of infection from a virus is an obvious example; but other risks can also be minimized, for example the risks associated with exposure to radiation during cardiovascular treatments. Expensive and time-consuming hygiene protocols can also be reduced or eliminated.
- Overcoming resource and capacity constraints. The pandemic has placed enormous strain on existing healthcare infrastructure and resources. For example, during the early months of the pandemic, there was much discussion about shortages of ventilators, but critical shortages of ventilator operators received less attention. In such a situation, remote work solutions can provide relief: experienced ventilator operators can share their expertise while monitoring all of a patient’s physical symptoms and vital signs in real time.
Other examples: specialists in low-demand areas could offer virtual consultations, and quarantined employees with milder symptoms could continue to work from home. Such arrangements not only reduce pressure on existing staff and resources, they help to contain overhead costs.
- Enhancing efficiency and productivity. Aside from the obvious benefits such as reduced commuting times, remote work arrangements have also been shown to increase productivity, improve employee morale, and reduce stress and burnout; thereby lowering the incidence of treatment errors.
As healthcare providers struggle to remain open and study how to emerge from the crisis as more resilient, exploring such options is more important than ever.
Healthcare has been slow to take up the shift to remote work for a number of reasons: cultural issues (an innate conservatism), technological limitations, restrictive billing protocols, and legal constraints (e.g., liability). Yet all four of these can be overcome. And the current pandemic has created fresh impetus to do so.
The Siemens Healthineers paper concludes: “The benefits of remote work are significant – for patients, for employers, for healthcare employees, and for business partners. An understanding of these benefits provides a compelling argument for why remote work solutions should be integrated into the strategic plans, infrastructure, and workflows of healthcare organizations.”
Original article by: HBR.ORG