As a healthcare professional at a hospital, you know your facility has faced its greatest operational challenges ever because of COVID-19. You're no doubt thinking ahead to how your facility will normalize in terms of functionality after the crisis eases — but how do you know what areas you need to focus your attention on?

A new study from Colorado State University researchers Emad M. Hassan and Hussam Mahmoud, "An Integrated Socio-Technical Approach for Post-Earthquake Recovery of Interdependent Healthcare System," can help give you some vital guidelines.

The study outlines a modeling tool that can help predict the full functionality of hospitals following pandemics or natural disasters. Dr. Hassan and Mahmoud, a graduate student, based their work on the idea of "community resilience." The researchers created a virtual community dealing with an earthquake and its aftermath as their study focus.

They then worked with the idea that healthcare systems are complicated networks that are made up as "nodes" that serve different functions. The researchers were able to identify a number of important markers as to how well a hospital will fare operationally. These markers include:

  • How many sufficiently staffed beds a hospital has for use.
  • Hospital staff availability to serve the needs of its patients.
  • How housing functionality is working for the community linked to a healthcare system.
  • Whether patient wait times are reasonable at a healthcare facility.
  • Water, power, transportation and telecommunication continuity in the community as the result of an adverse mass event.
  • Patient demographic analysis, depending on how admissions are spread between area hospitals. The details of which patients go to specific area hospitals can affect the overall function of a system, depending on the urgency and complexity of patient needs.
  • Quality analysis. How well does a hospital do on patient satisfaction surveys in the first place? This data can point to how well a healthcare facility or system will rise to a big care challenge when it unexpectedly occurs.

The point of the study is to help communities and hospital administrators figure out how well-positioned they are to handle worst-case disaster situations. Mahmoud and Hassan are now collaborating with National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health to determine how the model can be used for in-depth pandemic planning.

Taking this study's main points into account, you can use them as food for thought.

When it comes to practically and honestly evaluating your facility as the COVID-19 crisis continues, how well are you really doing? How can you position your facility strongly for the future? Do you also have strong collaboration and function among teams at other hospitals in your network? Do you have adequate equipment? Are you fully aware of the weaknesses in the technical infrastructure of your community?

Shoring up any and all lacking areas in your system is well worth your time and effort. Use this info to identify and correct functionality gaps now, so your facilities bounce back quickly and strongly after the worst of the pandemic winds down.

Then, plan for future adverse scenarios with your hospital's teams and the other healthcare facilities you work with. A fresh look at long-term planning is your best defense in uncertain times — it will ensure safe, quality care for your patients for years to come.