The global pandemic showed just how important it is for a society to be well prepared for rapid change in the event of a crisis. This was particularly evident within healthcare and social care, which continue to face major challenges. Parallel to this, the industrial sector is working on its ability to transition. So, what can they learn from each other?
Healthcare and social care face multiple challenges – they are in urgent need of personnel while our demographics are changing and increasingly more people will receive care in the home. The global pandemic greatly underlined the need for a systemic transition in certain areas, as well as the importance of preparedness and the ability to implement rapid changes in the event of a crisis.
The need for quick decisions and triage is nothing new to the healthcare sector, but in the future, novel approaches to preparedness may prove necessary.
Within industry, there is talk of flexible transition, which is a concept based on adaptable production capabilities aided by digital solutions and public-private partnerships. This is an approach that could benefit healthcare and social care as well.
Collaborations between the public and private sectors were seen already during the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, when protective equipment ran out, it led to a systemic transition wherein industrial companies collaborated with healthcare to find the right materials and quickly scale up contingency production of protective equipment,” explains Katrin Skagert, whose research field is production and occupational health and safety.
Industry’s flexible preparedness is largely about being able to transition production from one product to another, an area in which there are growing opportunities to employ modern technologies such as 3D printing and AI. Within healthcare, however, other factors come into play.
“Within this field, personnel and competence are absolutely key. As are premises that can be adapted, such as by increasing or decreasing the floor space dedicated to, say, intensive care. Consumables supplies are required even in the event of a stop in the supply chains,” says Dag Sjöholm, a research and business developer within certification at RISE.
In some areas of industry, production is standardised to such an extent that it is possible to bring in completely new personnel who can quickly learn the job with the aid of clear visual instructions. This is an approach that has also been of some use within healthcare and social care but may be more difficult to apply in more complex care scenarios.
Whether standardised solutions can be used is largely dependent on where within care services they are to be employed.
“A great deal is already heavily standardised, such as certain healthcare processes, lab tests and how we use medications. But it’s difficult to do this when it comes to interacting with another person. And it’s difficult to use standardised instructions in a non-standardised environment, such as within home care. Every home is different, and each person home care staff come into contact with is a unique individual,” says Skagert.
Within industry, it is common practice to jointly look at, say, flows. I believe that the public sector also needs to do more
There are, of course, significant differences between preparedness within industry and needs within healthcare and social care. One such difference is what is being produced – we can predict the end product of an industrial process and take a few steps back to make changes to that process.
“Healthcare, on the other hand, entails co-production between patient and personnel, a process that can be difficult to fully predict. So, when it comes to flexibility, it is innate to every step of the process as you are continually faced with different options for your next action,” says Skagert, and Sjöholm agrees.
“Within industry, the opposite is true as every end product should be identical.”
Another difference is how fast you can deploy personnel within production.
“Within healthcare, personnel are the most valuable resource. If we consider critical raw material shortages within industry, then within healthcare personnel are the equivalent resource. There is also a major difference when it comes to preparedness production. The specialist knowledge accumulated from the experience of interpreting people within healthcare and social care is difficult to rapidly scale up,” says Skagert.
However, there are also lessons to be learned from industry’s approach to transition. Such as to make greater use of visual instructions within healthcare as well as to ensure a managerial presence within operations to check that the established procedures and instructions do in fact work in practice.
“It became clear in the preparedness production, but also later when the protective equipment was to be used in practice, that the instructions needed to be adjusted on the fly. Within industry, it is common practice to jointly look at, say, flows. I believe that the public sector also needs to do more, that those who govern and lead should ensure that the various instructions can actually be followed in practice, and for employees and managers to jointly consider how to make adjustments without risking the spread of infection, as in the case of Covid-19,” says Skagert.
As an example, at the beginning of the pandemic, the instructions for using protective equipment were drawn up within healthcare.
“The same instructions were spread to home care, which faced completely different conditions, such as where the protective equipment was to be kept by personnel, what kind of places there were to take it off and put it on, and where it could be disposed of without contaminating anything.”
RISE has a key role to play in this work as it is involved in the entire process – from the development of methods and products, through CE marking, to instructions on how, for example, protective equipment should be handled and disposed of after use.
“One of RISE’s strengths is that we are well-versed in many areas, from production processes and materials to healthcare and social care. This provides us with a broad network, enabling us to play a supporting role in bringing together various functions and skill sets,” says Skagert.
“We are an independent party able to orchestrate all of this. And not only the production transition itself, as thanks to our knowledge about materials and our status as a certification body, we are also knowledgeable about product safety and, in the event of crisis, are able to together with the authorities offer a fast track without any detrimental effects on the associated risks,” says Sjöholm.