No business as usual post COVID? Maybe a good thing

"Professionally, I am mentally and logistically preparing for a different medical environment when we all return from isolation. I doubt it will ever be business as usual again," writes Bradley A. Erickson, MD, MS.

Dr. Erickson, a member of the Urology Times Editorial Council, is associate professor of urology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

I’m learning a lot about what I do by not being allowed to do it. It’s frustrating to be told your services are not vital in the time of a national emergency. Pre-COVID, there were days that I would leave the hospital after a long day in the operating room feeling like I had accomplished the surgically impossible, had maybe even saved a life. During COVID, I’m often leaving the hospital (if I even bother to show up) in an existential crisis. Is this what 7 years of training and 10 years of practice have led to? An inconsequential expertise?

I realize our lives will return to a new normal someday and my clinics and my operating room schedules will once again fill up with urethral strictures and curved penises. But until they do, I’m trying to enjoy my time away from the grind of medicine as much as I can. For my two young, impressionable boys, these months will likely represent their first societal “shared experience.” Like the Challenger explosion, the start of the first Gulf War, and 9-11 for me, they will never forget the COVID months and what their family did, or didn’t do, when isolating from society. My wife and I are finding that boredom is striking a creative flame in all of us that I hope does not extinguish.

Professionally, I am mentally and logistically preparing for a different medical environment when we all return from isolation. I doubt it will ever be business as usual again. Telehealth is being forced upon all of us and there will be no going back from it. Good. The transition might be painful for some hospitals and non-vital health employees, but I strongly believe that it will greatly benefit providers and patients in the long run.

The inefficiencies of requiring our patients to uproot their lives to drive, park, wait, and then wait some more, all for 10 minutes (if lucky) of face time with their provider are finally being exposed for what they are-primitive and unnecessary. Let’s finally, and fully, embrace technology in medicine, not just for billing purposes, but for its ability to free us from the mundane and from the mind-numbing churn of the medical industrial complex. Let’s finally try to fix physician burnout by not accepting a return to business as usual.

Finally, while I am sincerely appreciative of my non-medical friends for reaching out to me and others who are on the “front lines” of this epidemic, I think I can speak for most of us in saying that I hope this epidemic does more than simply remind people of the importance of doctors in society. I hope it also reminds society of the importance of scientific rigor and of scientific facts, the importance of individual expertise but also teamwork, and the importance of having a health care system that understands that none of us are truly healthy until we are all healthy.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Hug your family. Facetime your friends.