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5 Post-Pandemic Lessons for Pathologists

It’s now been more than two years since SarsCoV changed the course of reality. Despite trials and tribulations, we've gotten through this time in our hospitals, laboratories, and homes. A lot of lessons have been learned over these two years. Now, none of us want to think about the next COVID, but our experiences during the pandemic can help us as we return to “regular” life, as well as help us prepare for the next big shake up.

Collaboration is key

Getting though COVID required multidimensional layers of help. From residents of all specialties being deployed to help serve on COVID care teams, to governments and private sectors working closely together to get diagnostics and treatments rapidly vetted throughout the system, having a common goal allowed people from all disciplines and walks of life to rally to solve big problems. In your laboratories today, think about the common vision you can bring to reality for personnel, as well as the administration at large. Use that shared vision to affect the changes necessary to drive excellent care.

Flexibility counts

The COVID pandemic also showed us that old rules could be broken, or, at least, rethought. Certain CLIA provisions were relaxed, allowing pathologists and our colleagues to provide remote care. We saw the greatest use of EUA that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. When it comes to new matters of importance to laboratories, we have to be willing to ask for what we need, even if that means going outside of the box. In particular, now is the time to continue to press for advocacy measures that will make our ability to deliver care easier in the future.

Communication matters

One of the lessons learned during the pandemic is that communication is key. From the daily huddles to emergency meetings to making sure enough of the right kind of swabs are stocked in the right parts of the hospitals, we had to communicate our needs, wants, and problems with all areas of the health care system. On top of that, we saw the greatest acknowledgement of the role of pathology since “Dr. G Medical Examiner.” Moving forward, we must keep open these connections forged during the pandemic and continue the two-way street of communication to allow us to serve the needs of our “customers” as well as get the resources we need to deliver that care.

Burnout is real

Burnout is real, and it continues. Different aspects of the health care system are still seeing the residual flames of burnout. One of the greatest challenges we have in the next two to five years is to maintain (and hopefully grow) the workforce. Until we’re fully staffed, the pressures of providing care with less will remain as a source of possible burnout. This will require thoughtful and likely novel ways to recruit, train, and keep talent. We will have to continue to rethink incentives and payment structures and use technology to help solve these problems.

Technology shifts are here to stay

Zoom should have been the word of the year for 2020 and 2021. Technology has redefined what our “normal” workdays look like. Many places saw a burst in the use of remote sign out and digital slides. Other institutions learned how to harness technology to allow the education of staff and residents. I doubt we will all go 100% back to in-person tumor boards, as technology has allowed us the flexibility to be in more than one place at once. However, this flexibility must be viewed with caution given the prior point regarding burnout. Investment in these types of technology resources will be part of the laboratory of the near future, allowing us to provide excellent care to all.

To summarize, the biggest lesson of all from the pandemic is that we can think and dream big as a team. COVID was tough, but so many great ideas came from that period of adversity. Now is the time to share the ideas that worked well, expand on those successes, and continue to innovate.

Dr. Juanita Evans is a community pathologist in the metro Detroit area, where she practices general anatomic pathology and hematopathology and also serves as laboratory medical director for one of the hospitals her group serves. She is also an active volunteer with the CAP, where she currently serves on both the Practice Management and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committees.

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