The novel coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented global emergency in a way that disrupted every aspect of our lives. As countries worldwide come up with different strategies to curtail the spread of the virus, the global healthcare system’s repercussions have been intense. Aside from the fact that the pandemic put our health system under immense pressure, we have also seen health facilities stretched beyond capacity in a way that affects health care provider’s personal and professional lives.
Traditionally, we expect the military or financial bodies to take control during crises. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic switched the pendulum towards the medical community and created opportunities for healthcare professionals to honor their oaths in a time of great need.
As these fantastic professionals went to work, the pandemic ravaged on, threatening to undermine their selfless service to keep us safe. More than 300,000 people have died from COVID-19-related complications, including frontline workers – researchers are struggling to tally global mortality statistics and gauge the outbreak’s actual toll.
This grim reality put us all on high alert regarding the future. Nothing seems normal about life as we envisage a time when things will go back to normal.
Today, staying healthy has taken on more meaning for those still alive than it used to be. As the pandemic gravely affected the economy at its core, the impact varies from person to person. It necessitates the need to focus more attention on our healthcare system and providers.
Dr. Steffini Stalos, a lab consultant practicing at Blood Associate in Texas, commented to Top Doctor Magazine, saying, “we are now in the coronavirus time, and this is a new thing for a lot of people. Some labs have been able to cope, and some have not. I think this is a public health issue that we want people to help us with.” She went on to encourage lab consultants to offer more help. “This is the opportunity for those in the lab world. We have to be adaptive and creative to bring what people’s needs are to the table,” she said.
Even though our healthcare system is in a problematic state, the pandemic further exposed the design flaws and dragged the topic into the spotlight. In reality, every one of us has a role to play during this challenging time. Speaking on the need for help, Dr. Mark Merlin, an MD1 physician in Emergency Medicine in New Jersey – a non-profit 24/7 physician response unit said, “When COVID hit, my docs were on the road even when paramedics were getting COVID-19. I told my doctors to put on their PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator). While we were putting people on ventilators, paramedics started calling us since they don’t want to be exposed because they do not have PAPR. The reason they do not have one is that they cost more than a thousand dollars, and the health care system didn’t provide that.”
They do this at no charge to the patient. Speaking further on the request for help, Dr. Mark said, “There are so many potential people we can save on the roadside who are trapped in the car, some services we can provide to patients who can’t get to the hospital. I am hoping that I could get someone to donate for us. All the money around is earmarked for 911 EMS. It is difficult to explain to government agencies that we are doctors who are trying to get reimbursed so that we can help people during a challenging time like this,” he disclosed.
Less than a year after the pandemic started, researchers have worked tirelessly to develop a vaccine at record speed. Ideally, the process takes ten to fifteen years, but the US FDA has granted EUA – a green light of sort which is not the same as official approval – to vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer. Before now, the fastest vaccine that was developed for mumps took 48 months in 1960. The FDA can authorize unapproved medical products in response to public health emergencies to diagnose and treat patients when there are no alternatives. This unusual process polarized the medical community regarding the efficacy of the virus.
Dr. Gross, a neurosurgeon who resides in Nevada, California, spent over two decades providing care to patients in need. He stated that “the FDA does not regulate the practice of medicine; they evaluate and approve claims in terms of efficacy and safety for certain medication and devices.
So if they haven’t evaluated certain medication, it doesn’t mean it is not useful, just not approved. Not approved doesn’t mean unapproved. It is just not yet evaluated, and I think people see prejudice in the phrase “not approved by the FDA.”
Dr. Gross encouraged people to be optimistic about the vaccine and told us to trust the scientists. He explained that “for example, we use a medication that is off the label all the time like aspirin, which has not been investigated by the FDA. One of the reasons for that was because the FDA was formed in the 70s, and we were already doing certain things. They didn’t look backward but only forward. We need to try what is best for the patients sometimes. That comes before long term population study by the FDA.”
The media played a crucial role in influencing people’s opinions during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the bias in information sharing subject audiences to a skewed reality, distorting the general knowledge about what is right and wrong.
Dr. Topher and Dr. Thomas Pearson were partners in the medical school, and they decided to start practicing immediately after residency. They started Alevea Mental Health Clinic in Tempe, Arizona. The duo had just one goal in mind: creating a simple and easy clinic for patients to get access to adult psychiatrist care. Unfortunately, the pandemic caused so many issues in people’s lives. Dr. Topher and Dr. Pearson saw an increase in depression and anxiety among their patients in all demographics, including patients working in the medical field. “Our patients in the medical field, especially those in ICU who saw COVID-19 patients that are acutely ill, are having really high anxiety and depression.” As their patients’ numbers grew amid the pandemic, they transitioned to telemedicine to make their service more straightforward and faster.
Dr. Topher has a similar view about the media. He stated, “Although some people have some mistrust triggered by the misinformation and different opinion coming out right now. It is challenging to figure out what is true and what is not. I think social media is further worsening the situation and creating misinformation. There is a lot of work to be done to build trust and get everyone vaccinated. My biggest advice is that you should listen to your health care providers. Obviously, I think you need to listen to the scientist and what they are telling you. The vaccine is important and what these people can do in such a short time is a monumental task. I would encourage people to listen to health care professionals and follow their guidance.”
There are a lot of assumptions everywhere, but he told us, “We are running out of time, so we have to do what is right to keep people safe.”
Dr. Manuel Diaz attended Christopher Columbus High School before he proceeded to medical school in New York. His family lived briefly in South Florida and relocated to New Jersey for a couple of years for work reasons and relocated twelve years later. When the interstate relocation took its toll, Dr. Diaz never lost sight of his dream of becoming a doctor. A few years later, he started Executive Health with a senior partner in South Miami, Florida. Dr. Diaz was quick to express relief about the progress researchers made on the vaccine after a gloomy monologue about the virus’s effect on the healthcare industry. He said, “I am actually optimistic, I believe there is real light at the end of the tunnel, but there are precautions that need to be taken. The hope is that perhaps sometime in the spring or summer of 2021, we will start leaving this behind us.”
The human race has experienced multiple crises, but at no point – since the beginning of time – has a health crisis crippled the entire global economy, demonstrating how interconnected healthcare and the economy have become. The pandemic exacerbated fear, influenced political choices, and threatened to shut down our lives in a way that pushed professionals towards self-abnegation. Although our healthcare system has improved over time, it is simply not designed to withstand a monumental crisis as unpredictable as COVID-19. Because the pandemic is opposed to our health care system’s direction, every branch of medicine was caught off guard, and experts scrambled to rise to the challenge and keep people safe. As expected, health care professionals expressed concerns and a unified desire to help, even as their businesses struggle to stay afloat. “We were low on testing kits and modalities. In that low, I did briefly get involved in the PPE. I created Core Medical Industry, which is the medical device side of Blood Associate, to advance more or better PPE for protection against pandemic pathogens. I am not a big medical device maker, but I was worried about the lack of PPE and how other supply chains will affect the lab world. I pivoted, hoping I could play any part and help people get access to the care they so much need.” Dr. Stalos, the lab consultant, explained the reason why she started a medical device company.
As Dr. Topha and Dr. Pearson specialized in young adults between 18-35 years, they saw a lot of anxiety and depression associated with the pandemic among their clients.
“You know, people were losing their jobs, there was a lot of financial stressors and depression from having to isolate at home. A lot of increased anxiety associated with school and college because a lot of those who converted to online studying were having a hard time keeping up with school work from transitioning to online versus being in class.” Speaking of how they helped, the duo decided to transition into telemedicine. “We spend a lot of time with patients about the COVID situation and advise them to follow the guidelines of the CDC, and that has helped a lot of these people, especially those that live on campus.”
MD1, the non-profit medical organization, was stretched beyond the limit. As a flexible healthcare provider, they switched to COVID-19 emergency cases to provide care to patients. “When COVID really hit us, we wound up initially throughout the country, putting several patients in the ventilators. As care providers, we run the risk of getting COVID. We were on the road almost all the time. We got a lot of 911 calls from morning to night attending to COVID- patients.” Dr. Merlin explained. When we asked how they could stay safe from being infected, he told us that they use the PAPR, the spacesuit health officials wear, to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 vaccine’s arrival, less than a year into the pandemic, trumped the previous record of four years when a vaccine was developed for mumps. Pharmacists now face a significant challenge to convince those who are hesitant to take the vaccine. “Everything depends largely on the vaccine which just hit the street. Another issue is, are they going to be safe? Are we going to see in five years people being damaged by vaccines and people calling to hire an attorney? We don’t know, because the FDA did not go to its usual, very stringent, scientific, longer-term approval process, because it is more important on an emergency basis to help people at risk to get immunity.” Dr. Gross informed us.
Dr. Diaz supported the rush when he responded to questions regarding the vaccine, “In the trials, the vaccine is deemed very safe, and that is the primary reason why the FDA granted them Emergency Use Authorization.” He disclosed that we’d eventually be in control once everyone is vaccinated; at this stage, we’ll have “herd immunity, meaning that people that get the vaccine will join those who have been infected.”
While it was incredibly disruptive and challenging, crises usually nurture the emergence of common purpose, creativity, solidarity, and improvisation, which was evident among the healthcare experts. “I feel very positive now, and also about the New Year. There is always development in the CDC, FDA weekly meeting regarding the progress. That is very promising about the pandemic. Basically, we are getting our act together.” Suggesting a more comprehensive approach to combating the virus, Dr. Stalos said, “We need to amplify testing. Even if we amplify the testing, how do we use all the different pieces of testing to create a cohesive picture for the patients? For instance, if a patient is having a PCR test, serology test all at once, how do we relate this information together to talk about what the patient is experiencing? There are even new inflammatory markers coming into play that can differentiate between patients who have coronavirus and those that will experience more severe pain than other patients.”
As the vaccination process progresses, healthcare providers beamed with satisfaction, hoping that life quickly returns to normal. But Dr. Stalos cautioned that it is not a time to relent; instead, a time to look inward and fix our healthcare system. “Pandemics have periodicity. That means, even after we overcome the coronavirus challenge, we can expect another pathogen in the next five or six years.” Ultimately, the government has a role to play. “I think this new political administration needs to be forward-looking that this is going to happen again that we as a nation need to step forward and act proactively because the next agent pathogen may be deadlier than the coronavirus. We won’t have the luxury of time as it was when the coronavirus hit,” says the consultant, Dr. Steffini Stalos.