Bisson: The Coming ‘New Normal’

March 22, 2020

by Ken Bisson, M.D.

As a retired physician I have been following the developments of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic with interest. I think there will continue to be great disruptions to our economy for the short term. We are all becoming familiar with the obvious disruptions to our “old normal” routines. But I believe a “new normal” will be developing in several months. 

My contemporaries are all too fond of saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” But how it has always been done is rarely the best way something canbe done. Innovations always lead to improved methods of accomplishing tasks, and Americans are great improvisers.

Today, the need to keep our healthcare workers as safe as possible has led to a rapid increase in the use of tele-medicine. Many types of routine office visits can be conducted remotely with modern technology. Grandma would say, “Not exactly new technology — I have been on FaceTime with my grandchildren every week for years.”

Cancer doctors are constantly interacting with patients who have compromised immune systems. In this crisis time, they are being more vigilant than most of us in trying to minimize the risk of acquiring the infection and inadvertently passing it on to their vulnerable patients. Using tele-medicine for all their visits (other than surgical procedures) can greatly reduce the risks faced by their patients. I expect this will become the new normal for many types of health encounters in the future — an improvement that will have been “sped up” by our need to cope with this emergency.

I am quite optimistic about the opportunities that will develop after the first month of experiencing widespread infections. Once it is confirmed (and I fully expect it will be) that after someone has recovered from their infection, they have immunity and cannot be carriers, amazing changes will occur. This army of the recovered will lead our economic comeback. Unlike our required behavior now (stay home, avoid others, do not go to work, etc.) these heroes will be able to do the things in most need now — safely provide hands-on services. Recovered physicians can care for the ill Coronavirus patients while their colleagues can better avoid those infected. A Covid-19 recovered oncologist will be the safest physician to interact with frail patients who must avoid the infection.

The same will be possible in many industries. These folks will be the most valuable employees for some time. Imagine a restaurant staffed with employees  wearing tee shirts confirming they are “Covid-19 Survivors.” Business as usual can resume for that restaurant when they open back up just for folks who have been infected, recovered and no longer need to stay home. Within months, there will be millions of “survivors” to resume doing business and to work where they are most needed and valued. Education, healthcare delivery and commuting habits are all important parts of our economy that can possibly become unexpectedly and dramatically improved by the innovations we develop in the coming months.

This pandemic is a terrible burden and the costs will be with us a long time. However, we should remain optimistic that the eventual recovery will provide opportunities for a better future. Only our refusal to recognize these opportunities will hold us back.

Ken Bisson, M.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, holds a bachelor of science in chemistry and a medical degree from Indiana University, Bloomington.


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