The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the healthcare system in a multitude of ways, affecting healthcare capacity, treatment of other illnesses, and wellness as well as professional retention of healthcare workers. 1-3 During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare capacity was tested and resources were used up quickly. 1 As the pandemic has progressed, healthcare systems have had to decide how to proceed with lessons learned, reassessing the environment of care delivery, healthcare supply chains, workforce structures, communication systems, and scientific collaboration as well as policy frameworks in healthcare. 4
There have been both immediate effects and long-term consequences of the delay in care for other conditions. 2,5 One stark example of this is in cancer care, where screening and procedures were postponed or canceled due to the pandemic with a resulting predicted 2% increase in cancer mortality in the next 10 years. 2 The care of heart disease, chronic illnesses, and other viruses has also been similarly negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to similar delays in diagnosis and treatment. 5-7
The impact on healthcare workers has also been profound. 3 Occupational stress from the pandemic has correlated with increased depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among other mental health diseases in healthcare workers. 3 In a survey of neurosurgery residents, 26.1% of physicians reported feeling burnt out, and 65.8% were worried that they would not be able to reach surgical milestones. 8,9 Among respiratory therapists, a hard hit group during this time, 79% reported burnout. 10 Additionally, more healthcare workers left the field during the pandemic, with 15 million lost jobs. Future recovery of jobs looks bleak in some settings, like long-term care and among assistants and aides. 11 Overall, the long-term outcomes of these resource, disease, and mental health disruptions need to be assessed and solutions created to maintain a quality and effective healthcare system, with ample resources and measures to account for disease increases and address the impact on providers.
Healthcare Capacity and Resources
With COVID-19 affecting over 100 million in the United States as of March 1, 2023, the impact on healthcare resources since the start of the pandemic has been immense. 12 With 5% to 38% of hospitalized patients being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and 75% to 88% of those patients requiring mechanical ventilation, a huge strain was placed on resources during and after the pandemic. 1
The question of balancing resources for other hospital needs while tending to patients with COVID-19 has been an ongoing discussion at many levels. 1 One core resource concern is the lack of staff. In a survey of 77 different countries, including physicians (41%), nurses (40%), respiratory therapists (11%), and advanced practice providers (8%), 15% reported insufficient intensivists and 32% reported insufficient ICU nursing staff during March and April of 2020. 1 A lack of hospital and care space that led to reallocation of limited-care acute care space was a concern. Thirteen percent reported a shortage of hospital ICU beds, while others reported the conversion of postoperative recovery rooms (20%) and operating rooms (12%) for patients with COVID-19. 1