Lessons from U.S. COVID hospital crisis
Published on September 29, 2022 26 min
Hello, I'm Regina Herzlinger and I'm the McPherson Professor at the Harvard Business School and I have a specialty in healthcare innovation. I was like all of us, very concerned about the COVID crisis, and one aspect of it particularly caught my attention, and that is the shortage of hospital beds in the US, but really, all over the world, to treat COVID patients and to treat patients who do not have COVID that urgently needed a hospital bed.
Well, the problem is that in the US, even though it spends twice as much as any other developed country on health care, we have far fewer hospital beds. We have 2.8 beds per 1000 people versus eight beds per 1000 people for a pretty good system like Germany. But even the systems that had far more beds than in the US ran into problems at the height of the COVID epidemic, they could not treat enough of the COVID patients and they certainly couldn't treat many people who urgently needed the hospital beds.
Why are there so few beds? Well in the US the issue is that hospitals are reimbursed very, very well for surgical procedures, but they are not reimbursed so well for medical procedures and surgical procedures, due to advances in technology and in the workflow for surgeries, can be done very quickly, much more quickly than medical procedures on a whole. On the average, when there is no epidemic, there is not a great need for hospital beds and American hospitals are usually at about 77 percent of occupancy. But when you have very few beds, and this awful epidemic hits, it's a real problem and is a real problem, not only in the US, but in virtually all other developed countries.