8 lessons from the pandemic to guide us in 2021

I think most of us are happy 2020 is now in the rearview mirror. Although there were many negatives associated with the pandemic over the past year, it’s important for us to consider the positives as well. Particularly when we think about technology. The acceleration of the digital transformation of so many activities has been pretty amazing. This has affected virtually all aspects of daily life — how we shop, interact, work, eat, obtain healthcare, and more. No doubt many of these changes are here to stay.

2020 was certainly a year of growth in many ways. Here are my top 8 lessons learned from the pandemic. Hopefully they can serve as inspiration to help us tackle the coming year together.

1. Healthcare heroes continue to go above and beyond

Healthcare and other frontline workers continue to push themselves beyond what they could ever have imagined. The physical and mental toll has been significant, and we can’t put into words the gratitude we feel for all of you working so hard to save lives every day. We know you’re struggling, but we also know you’re strong. This pandemic has helped a broader audience understand more about how our interconnected healthcare system works and the physicians, nurses, and other care team members who devote their lives to making it happen.

2. A fast-tracked vaccine showcases the wonders of science and collaboration

The fact that scientists were able to complete what normally takes years in record time is truly one for the history books. The arrival of the approved COVID-19 vaccine in December was a bright spot that gave us our first real indication that we could turn the corner on this pandemic. We can all be proud of the ingenuity and dedication of the global science and medical community. They worked together brilliantly along with the thousands of patients who joined clinical trials so we can all be safer going forward.

3. Telehealth is off and running

One astounding change arising from the pandemic is the astronomical rise of telehealth. Once something of a novelty, many physicians and other practitioners now see 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth visits according to a McKinsey & Company report. The study also shows that while 11% of consumers were interested in telehealth visits in 2019, that number has jumped to 76% in 2020.

Not only has telehealth given patients the ability to connect with providers in a way that protects both parties, but it has also enabled many providers to stay afloat financially at a time when some patients have delayed preventative and routine care. Providers are now working to improve their technology capabilities to continue this approach going forward. They will need to consider how this option will work across their patient populations, with differing access to technology and different comfort levels surrounding its use. HBR recently conducted a digital roundtable with CIOs from leading healthcare organizations, who agree this “digital front door” is critical to get right, and that a positive patient experience is one of the keys to making it work long term.

4. Virtual communication can keep us connected

Teleconferencing definitely came of age during the pandemic. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan blogged in March that the platform was seeing 200 million daily meeting participants. Just a month later, it reached 300 million.

From classroom education and corporate meetings to family reunions and friendly catch-ups, online connection helped us all maintain some sanity in 2020. The ability to see loved ones made distances a little smaller, especially for those living alone, or who were ill or in quarantine. Now that many who might once have feared using this type of technology to communicate have embraced it, we have the opportunity to stay better connected going forward.

5. Virtual events continue education and sharing

Once considered essential in many industries, in-person conferences were an early casualty of the pandemic. For Spok, we missed seeing our customers and partners at mainstays such as HIMSS, the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) annual meeting, the Healthcare IT Institute gathering, and AMDIS Annual Physician-Computer Connection Symposium. And of course, we had to forgo our own in-person Connect conference as we shifted to an online format.

Luckily, virtual event platforms quickly ramped up to give us alternative methods of exchanging important information across various industries. I think many of us will be happy to get back to in-person events once we can, but online conferences are likely to stick around and will offer more options for virtual communication and learning in the future.

6. Remote workforces are thriving

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 31% of businesses (employing 68.6 million workers) increased telework options during the pandemic. While this certainly presents new challenges in the forms of childcare, carving out a suitable home-based workstation, and many other logistics, people are adapting quickly. In fact, a recent Forrester report shows 18.2 million workers (representing 12% of the U.S. workforce) will likely remain remote in the future.

7. Paging continues to support frontline workers

In areas where the virus has maxed out bed capacity, pop-up hospitals and new units have to be established quickly. This may mean standing up temporary facilities or shifting a floor once dedicated to elective surgery procedure recovery to one supporting COVID patients. In either case, staff have to function in areas that may not have all the technology underpinnings that exist on traditional patient floors.

Spok is proud to keep care team communication flowing with the availability, simplicity, and reliability of pagers. Many of our customers have ramped up their paging capabilities to complement their use of smartphones and other communication devices as their physical spaces grow and change. Leading organizations look to pagers for a cost-effective and valuable tool that can be deployed quickly and easily across their staff.

8. We humans are a resilient bunch

We’ll all emerge from this pandemic a bit different. Hopefully that means we appreciate one another a little more and embrace the positives when we can. Handshakes and hugs might still be on the back burner, but the power to touch lives is ever present, especially in healthcare. And for that, I’m grateful.