Every hospital administrator, physician and caregiver has been tested and changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the challenges your facility faced were no doubt huge and tremendously difficult, there is a positive side to meeting them: You and your teams can now take the lessons you learned while operating through COVID-19 to improve patient care to its highest degree ever — and you can innovate for the future through key steps that will ensure you’re prepared for anything.

Use the following science-based advice for identifying and implementing the changes you need to offer your very best to your community.

Make contingency plans when it comes to clinical trial completion.

A new study by Penn State College of Medicine researchers Nour Hawila and Arthur Berg, "Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on registered interventional clinical trials," shows that researchers reported difficulty working with patients from April to October 2020 due to lockdowns and cases to the point where study completion rates dropped 13-23%.

This is the perfect time to set up a constructive strategy with your organization's affiliated researchers and educational partners so that studies will not be interrupted or delayed in the future. Work out ways that trials can be adapted and adjusted via technology so as many participants can work remotely with your teams as feasibly as possible.

Encourage your researchers to think creatively and be flexible; good brainstorming now will ensure their process stays timely and results are accurate and useful whenever the unexpected occurs.

Consider workshare or shift change models to avoid healthcare worker burnout.

Many of your employees may be reevaluating the way they want to be productive after grappling with the stress and intense workloads the pandemic presented. Could new scheduling models help them recover their equilibrium? Look into ways you might spread out staff responsibility, offer shorter workweek options, and allow professionals with administrative duties to do some of their work from home.

Talk to your employees about what changes they feel would most improve their work-life balance — this will allow them to do their best for your patient population.

Avoid antibiotic overuse at admission.

A study from Michigan Medicine finds that, during the pandemic, many hospitalized COVID patients received antibiotics quickly after admission as a preventative measure in case they also had a bacterial infection. However, researchers found that 96.5% of the patients they looked at did not need antibiotics at all.

As part of your facility's continuing goal not to overprescribe, this is an excellent time to analyze how your doctors determined antibiotic prescription rates during the pandemic and work on an information campaign to reduce unnecessary usage. Make sure your nursing staff is fully involved in giving you crucial feedback about antibiotics for the best real-time data.

Freshly review patients' overall lifestyles before discharge.

A second Michigan Medicine study, "Sixty Day Outcomes Among Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19," reveals that life after discharge can present patients with more significant difficulties than you may expect. Two months after discharge, 39% of the patients followed within this research had not resumed normal activities, including 40% who had not returned to work.

Half of these patients reported struggling emotionally, and 37% of these patients reported suffering financially, to the point where they had to ration their food and medicine and had difficulty paying for housing and heat. For patients with any lasting conditions, monitoring these concerns can play a huge role in recovery.

Drawing up a detailed checklist including these COVID-based factors can help your case managers and physicians make better choices for and with patients. It's also important to schedule timely follow-ups to get feedback directly from each patient on any ongoing problems or concerns. Don't let them go it alone.

Shore up your supply chain early and often.

COVID taught every hospital administrator that sufficient PPE, meds, and other crucial supplies must be plentiful at all times. Make stocking your facility in a cost-efficient manner one of your top ongoing priorities.

The bottom line: the toughest experiences are the greatest teachers. Use what you have learned to your patients' best advantage.