The Future of the Global Health Workforce
Many experts estimate there will be a before and after in the global health workforce because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of the many drivers of change in a world that is rapidly evolving, integrating technology with healthcare in an irreversible way. What changes are to be expected, which ones are hoped for by experts, and what transformations are already taking place?
Changes in Global Public Health Security
If there’s something this pandemic has highlighted is the need for public health security guidelines and measures that are followed by all countries. Previous to 2020, this focus was larger in developed countries, with low and middle-income countries being left out for the most part.
However, a virus that first appeared in Asia has made it all over the world and it has killed millions of people. This sheds light on the fact that our world is as interconnected as ever. Therefore, in order to have efficient health security, changes need to take place worldwide.
This might lead to interventions regarding neglected tropical diseases as well as increased research into the best protocols to follow in case of an outbreak. That said, isolation is also a risk to keep in mind. Some countries might take a turn towards less globalization and this will lead to less cooperation between nations. (1) (2)
Acceleration of Technology Uptake
Certain advances in the healthcare industry take place very slowly. This is mainly because of the delicate nature of the industry and the implications for patients. However, there has been increased adoption of tech in the form of Electronic Health Records, the use of telemedicine, and the use of apps to track health status, treatment adherence, and other concerns.Telemedicine has greatly accelerated due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Many practitioners might have been reticent to take part in telemedicine and telehealth; however, it has become one of the best ways to address non-emergencies in which a physical exam is not required.
However, it is yet to be seen if this trend will continue once vaccinations roll out worldwide. While it is expected that telehealth systems will be maintained by certain institutions, others might prefer to go back to how things used to be. That said, it is undeniable that tech is no longer seen as something that might become an intrinsic part of the health industry. This is a reality already. Therefore, the healthcare workforce will need to adapt and evolve with tech in order to stay current and be able to provide the best patient care (3)
Our MedTreks team helped to set up a Telemedicine clinic in Kenya with Village HopeCore International
Mental Health as a Priority
Before the pandemic, anxiety and depression epidemics were already being reported. This has only grown during 2020 and 2021. The uncertainty and lack of knowledge surrounding the virus and the deleterious effects of lockdown took a considerable toll. This has lead to growing discussions and understanding of mental health issues, which is expected to become a priority in upcoming years.
However, there are also worrying concerns when it comes to the healthcare workforce. Not only are we likely to suffer from the aforementioned mental health issues, but the growing incidence of burnout also needs to be discussed. Similarly, burnout was already a growing concern before the pandemic and this has only exacerbated during the last months.
Healthcare practitioners (HCPs) find themselves overworked, overextended, and it has been estimated that as much as 78% have experienced burnout syndrome. In addition, the growing demand for HCPs around the world adds additional pressure to the current workforce. Conversely, it is expected that there will be a growing interest in healthcare careers as a consequence of the pandemic. However, there will still be a considerable gap between demand and offer worldwide. In addition, those currently in school have also been greatly affected, as clinical rotations are now taking place in the online setting, which is considered less than ideal by many (4) (5).
Increased Health Spending
There has been increased health spending as a consequence of the pandemic. However, the lack of healthcare spending was an issue way before COVID-19 and there are questions about the permanence of this increase after vaccines roll out. Many experts hope for increased spending on prevention measures as well as in the overall healthcare industry.
It is yet to be seen how much the memory of the pandemic lasts and the long-term impact it will have on the budgets of countries worldwide. The ideal situation would lead to an overhaul of many current healthcare systems and the prioritization of both mental and physical health.
Increased health spending could also translate into increases in hiring, which would be beneficial for numerous institutions as well as many current members of the healthcare workforce. Having more qualified people to do the job could have a positive impact on burnout and early retirement rates (2).
There are many changes that are expected to take place in the upcoming years. The healthcare workforce continues to be one of the most important ones for the development of nations and the wellbeing of its citizens. As technology evolves, significant changes will take place but it doesn’t replace the need for qualified humans in the industry. It is a time of evolution and change and adaptability is the name of the game.
If you are interested in expanding your global health skillset, learning skills in humanitarian & travel medicine or doing medical work abroad: check out our MedTreks Kenya Global Health Program