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5 Truths: COVID-19's Wake-Up Call for Healthcare

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   January 19, 2021

Atrium Health's Rasu Shrestha, MD, examines the macro picture of the pandemic and the lasting legacy it will leave on the healthcare system.

"The pandemic has been a big wake-up call," says Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, executive vice president and chief strategy and transformation officer for Atrium Health. By examining the macro picture and dissecting lessons learned along the way, he says that five elements, or truths, emerged from the turmoil that will not only shape Atrium Health's transformation strategy going forward, but also the way the healthcare industry operates.

[Editor's note: We invite you to read Atrium's Rasu Shrestha, MD, Shares The Art of Intentional Strategy to learn how this renowned transformation executive connects the dots between innovation and strategy.]

1. We are one global community. The coronavirus outbreak that originated far from U.S. shores in Wuhan, China, "is affecting every one of us—not just in the United States—but globally as well," he says. Yet the impact of COVID-19 extended far beyond the spread of disease. Its tentacles reached into supply chains, vaccine and antibody research, and managing best practices around COVID-19. Every action and inaction has had a domino effect, leading to "an abject level of realization that we truly are one big global community," says Shrestha.

2. The practice of medicine and public health are no longer separate entities. "Healthcare traditionally resided in the realm of medicine, and we focused on treating our patients and making sure that we provided superior care to our patients, but public health was almost a separate domain unto itself," Shrestha says. "The walls between those two domains have come down." For Atrium Health, "that's music to our ears," he says, "because of the commitment that we have as a health system to the communities that we're serving. For the lay person, those distinctions never made sense to them anyway."

3. The walls between health sciences and life sciences also have tumbled. The pandemic showcased opportunities to accelerate the connection between research and the development of therapeutics, he says. "There are tremendous opportunities that exist in the research and the life sciences area right now," Shrestha says. "How do we hasten the pace of the work that's going on in the bench side and get it to the bedside in a much quicker, safer, more effective way?" 

Along these lines Atrium, along with Wake Forest Baptist Health, has established a national COVID-19 data registry which already has nearly 2 million active participants. The initiative is collecting  information about COVID-19 exposures, symptoms, and disease outcomes, as well as exploring novel ways to investigate disparities in health outcomes.

4. Virtual care, cloud technology, and artificial intelligence are no longer aspirational; they are mandatory. Innovations accelerated by the pandemic are now foundational "must have" components of delivering healthcare, Shrestha says. "It's something that we've been pushing forward with for a while here at Atrium."

5. Fee-for-service business models have failed the test of the pandemic. "For a long time in our industry, we've been talking about [the need to] move away from volume to value," Shrestha says. The pandemic has illustrated the significance of putting the best interest of consumers, community members, and patients first. "When that level of realization sinks in," he says, "it then translates into specific strategies and business models that are then going to be more sustainable over time."

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

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