The new normal

In March 2020 we concluded an article with the comment that “The headlines at the moment may naturally focus on the ongoing coronavirus situation but the day-to-day work of health practitioners still remains.” At that time the UK was still in the containment phase with health practitioners have to manage their duties in the face of a rapidly changing situation.

Just over one month on and the UK is entering its fourth week of lockdown. News headlines are full of little else but the ongoing COVID-19 situation with a lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) taking the top spot. In response, across the country factories are rapidly retooling to produce much-needed equipment for the health service, in some cases consolidating months of research and design into a few days.

For the population as a whole the initial lockdown shock is gradually being replaced by a feeling of acceptance of the part we can all play in staying indoors and saving lives. And when we do have to venture out for food we are becoming used to waiting in line and keeping our distance in order to shop safely.

That we are adapting is hardly surprising. One of the reasons for the rise of mankind as a species is our ability to adapt, to overcome challenges and to make the most of any given situation. But we are also a social animal and that is why some aspects of the lockdown are particularly hard to come to terms with as we isolate from each other. That’s why it’s so important to keep up lines of communication as far as possible, whether it be by telephone, internet or other means.

When the restrictions are eased some aspects of life will revert to how they were before, albeit with a new appreciation of the ability to interact freely. Aside from this, there may also be some more permanent changes in daily lives; born out of the ways in which we are currently working through, and have learnt from, lockdown restrictions.

For example, in order to reduce interactions and protect lives the health service has seen a rise in telephone and video consultations and in the sharing of digital records. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak less than one percent of consultations were carried out via video link. Now, telephone and electronic consultations are generally seen as the first port of call for practitioner contact. Practices such as these may be workarounds now; but may also become the new normal as the benefits for patient care and the health service become apparent.

Traditionally in times of crisis technological development leaps forward. Some of the practices which are today becoming the new normal were available prior to this crisis but may not have been implemented to any great extent. COVID-19 has forced us to look again, to move towards online booking and consultations, to electronically store and share patient notes, and to manage virtual diaries. This is the new normal and if some of this benefits the delivery of patient care not just now but also in the future then the new normal might go on helping to save lives.