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The COVID-19 pandemic threw up a situation that neither our members nor the wider profession has experienced before.
When anyone asks me to summarise the experience of doctors during COVID-19 in a sentence, I say, “It has been change management on steroids.”
At the simplest level, what I think we can draw from the pandemic, is the medical profession’s ability to do three things: adapt, innovate
Adapting to the situation
From the outset, the COVID-19 pandemic was a terrifying situation that posed life-threatening risks to both patients and healthcare workers. As leaders in the sector, doctors paved the way by quickly adapting by both addressing the disease and keeping everyone safe while doing so.
With the situation changing so quickly, doctors were constantly adjusting to new circumstances. For example, with COVID-19 testing, the criteria changed frequently. It was difficult to keep up to date as information was being reviewed and revised so often. Sometimes the information provided was conflicting, leading to widespread confusion.
During the early stages of the pandemic, Avant assisted members by holding webinars and developing resources focusing on the medico-legal issues the pandemic raised.
Innovative with technology
Medicine is often seen as a conservative profession, yet the pandemic showed how doctors are able to cope with rapid change and innovate. The most notable example has been the introduction of telehealth, which the Australian Government rolled out over 10 days instead of the planned 10 years. The speed and efficiency with which doctors embraced telehealth during the pandemic has been outstanding.
Telehealth wasn’t only about doctors adapting to the technology, it also meant they had to learn to communicate with patients in a completely different way. Members were concerned about telehealth so we conducted a survey to ask what members thought about the future of telehealth, and we received over 1,300 responses.
The results confirmed that doctors wanted telehealth to continue, although both doctors and patients were struggling with the technology, and there was inadequate training. The findings prompted us to develop factsheets and share the insights of doctors who had great success adapting their practices to telehealth in several ‘how to’ videos.
Collaborating as a profession
In a crisis, it’s more important than ever to have clear goals and work together. At the micro level, this new situation saw doctors, other healthcare workers and administrative staff working together more collaboratively than ever before, both in hospitals and practices.
At the macro level, doctors worked closely with policy makers to solve the vast array of clinical and logistical problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, the peak bodies and medical defence organisations collaborated more effectively than ever before to ensure messaging is consistent and policy decisions are in the best interest of both the profession and community.
The vaccine rollout is a good example. Although GPs are used to vaccinating, this is different. COVID-19 vaccines are a precious resource globally and there is heightened emotion around their administration. The vaccines themselves use new technologies, come as multi-dose vials and have different storage requirements, making distribution more complicated.
The clinical information about side effects has changed rapidly as new data has come in from around the world.
Despite the frustration and uncertainty, I have been impressed by the way the medical profession has worked with the government to implement the vaccination program.
Skills for an unpredictable future
The past 12 months have been incredibly difficult for doctors in Australia, and more so in most other countries.
We should be proud of the way we have adapted, innovated and collaborated to deliver the best possible healthcare to the community during the pandemic. It is important we continue to use these skills to support each other, the healthcare sector and the wider community, in navigating an unpredictable future.
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