CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Life may return “back to normal” by the end of the pandemic, but will the state of health care in the United States be the same?
During the UVA School of Medicine’s Medical Center Hour on Wednesday afternoon, medical students and physicians asked that question to one of the nation’s most prominent surgeons and best-selling authors, Dr. Atul Gawande.
Gawande is a practicing endocrine surgeon at Bringham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He also serves as a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and has written acclaimed best-sellers like Complications and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
During the Medical Center Hour, Gawande said the pandemic will likely change many facets of health care going forward, from continuing to treat people virtually to ramping up educational programs within the public health realm.
One of the most prominent changes he said he hoped to see in the healthcare industry is greater access to treatment, an issue plaguing rural areas and people of color, two groups hit hard not only with COVID-19, but the nation’s vaccine rollout plan.
“We have been all breakthrough and not enough follow-through. It’s partly about our lack of commitment and planning for serving the entire public,” Gawande said.
Serving the entire public means not only having treatment available, but also educating about those treatments going forward. Hiring practitioners and educators that can do the work within their community, Gawande said, is one way of expanding access and instilling trust in health care.
“Making outreach and engagement part of a medical team, and paying for it, I think is, I hope is one of the lessons I hope we hold onto,” he explained.
Students asked about the effects of the pandemic translating to a loss of health care, as many people became unemployed over the past year. Gawande said expanding the age range to access health care, as well as providing a public option, could have profound effects on breaking down barriers to care and preventing chronic illness down the road.
“Your health care being tied to your job has fragmented the care your receive, the medicines you’re on, and the primary care relationships that you have. It’s clearly harmful to our ability to deliver great care and it’s harmful to people’s lives,” he said.
Gawande also answered questions about the role of things like a vaccine passport, documenting who is vaccinated. He said the pandemic may cause health professionals to double as record keepers, as proof of vaccinations may become a necessity in the future.
“Healthcare settings and clinicians may be the ones, like with vaccinations for pediatricians, asked to document that your patient actually had your vaccine,” he said. “I suspect we’re going to be playing some of that role in making it as easy as possible, especially for lower income people, people of color, people who don’t speak the same languages. To easily access us to get those permissions is going to be super important.”
Gawande also touched on the importance of mental and social health in the healthcare realm, citing that isolation during the pandemic and the cognitive stresses has had a profound effect on patients and physicians.