Prepare for the next pandemic

Public health experts have been warning about a worldwide pandemic for decades. Unwilling or unable to believe what could happen, most people put their heads in the sand. We’ve now seen that a local virus can tear through lives across the globe, upending everything we do. 


The next pandemic is inevitable. Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as COVID, and we will be better prepared. There’s a distinct possibility, however, that it will be worse. Here’s what your agency can do now to get ready for whatever lies ahead. 


Take Stock of Your Response to This Pandemic 

Before you plan for the next pandemic, you need to take a hard look at how you responded to the current crisis while bearing in mind that while the pandemic is over, COVID is still among us. 


This unflinching critical look helps you become more agile in your response to the current pandemic and can help you determine what you need to do differently next time. Accept input from everyone, no matter how critical. Be sure to talk with patients, who may have ideas about how you can mitigate infection risk while still providing compassionate care. 


When you have this information, don’t just rely on general principles. Devise a specific, step-based plan to respond to the next pandemic rapidly. Revisit this plan every few months. When news of the next pandemic starts to emerge, it’s time to thoroughly evaluate the plan and implement any and all emergency preparedness measures it includes. 


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Make Good Hygiene Standard Operating Procedure 

As word of the pandemic spread, so too did the reminder that health agencies must focus on handwashing and good hygiene. The truth is that this reminder should have been unnecessary.


Healthcare workers deal with communicable infections constantly and treat the most vulnerable members of society—people for whom the common cold and influenza can be very big deals.


Diligent, aggressive hygiene must be standard practice. So consider how you can make it easier. Some strategies that may work well include: 


  • Installing touchless entrances, toilets, and similar options in your buildings
  • Stocking hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes
  • Cultivating a culture in which working while sick is considered dangerous rather than a sign of a good work ethic
  • Always washing hands
  • Diligently cleaning equipment every time you use it
  • Practicing additional infection prevention strategies as indicated by your client population


Stay Informed About Public Health 

“S/he who panics first panics best.” It’s an old and rather alarmist saying, but it has also proved true during the pandemic. The agencies that first recognized COVID were the best prepared, just as the individuals who locked down first were the least likely to get the disease.


Plan to stay ahead of the curve by remaining up to date on public health. Read Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization briefings. Schedule regular meetings with your team about emerging threats abroad and in your community. And remember, a disease doesn’t have to spread across the globe to be lethal. Local epidemics—an opioid overdose crisis or outbreak of suicides—may color your daily life as much as high-profile infections. 


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Stock Up on Supplies 

Pandemics can lead to supply chain disruptions, so spend time stocking up on the basic equipment you need. The specific list for this will vary depending on your patient population, but at minimum, ensure you have plenty of masks, sanitizing supplies, and emergency supplies such as nebulizers and epinephrine. Ensure you also have plenty of attachments and disposable parts for all equipment you use. Then store it all in an accessible, sealed location to optimize access and minimize the spread of infection. 


Portable emergency suction will always be a staple of emergency medicine, no matter where you practice or whom you serve. The next pandemic will likely be a respiratory, flu-like virus. This demands that you be prepared to treat respiratory crises.


When you can tend to patients wherever you find them, you improve outcomes, prevent care delays, and slow the spread of the virus by eliminating the need to move highly contagious people.


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Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in November, 2020. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.