4 ways the pandemic has changed medical care

By George N. Saliba | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published February 24, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an evolution in how, where, and when HCPs interact with patients.

  • Traveling nurses have shored up understaffed hospitals, telemedicine has skyrocketed, and home health care is on the rise, with 73% of patients indicating they would prefer to recover at home instead of at a hospital after a major medical event.

  • Although many pandemic-related changes in the healthcare industry appeared to be temporary fixes during a pandemic, some are here to stay. Staying on top of these trends can help keep clinicians ahead of the curve.

In the years since the first-reported COVID-19 diagnosis in the United States on January 20, 2020, the healthcare landscape has evolved in areas affecting both clinicians’ work environments and the many ways they deliver medical care.

Enhanced hospital infection control protocols, an increase in traveling nurses, and telemedicine and home healthcare usage have all taken center stage. While these trends undoubtedly accelerated during the pandemic, they may be here to stay.

Infection control

In the infection control sphere, the CDC continues to update its guidance for healthcare settings. It has issued new recommendations, for example, for testing and quarantining healthcare professionals (HCPs) in the midst of the Omicron variant.

This and other guidance from both state and federal bodies during the coronavirus pandemic have shaped infection control protocols. In addition, hospitals have increased the number of negative-pressure isolation rooms at their facilities. 

Another advance, described in a report by the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), is the use of centralized monitoring equipment outside of patients’ rooms to better protect staff from the coronavirus. 

Hospitals have likewise made changes affecting visitation, for example, all in an effort to control pathogens.

Related: How Penn Medicine saved lives with text messaging during the pandemic—and what doctors can learn from it

Telemedicine trends

Telemedicine has been a widely publicized means for reducing the spread of COVID-19 and/or improving convenience of care. Global management consulting firm McKinsey revealed in a report that telemedicine usage increased 38 times over the pre-pandemic baseline. 

McKinsey said that up to $250 billion in US healthcare spending could potentially be conducted virtually in the future, although they added this is not necessarily a “foregone conclusion.” Another survey detailed within the report showed that 76% of respondents are likely to use telehealth in the future, and that 74% were highly satisfied with it.

Distributed care

CareCentrix, Inc—a company that manages care in the home—noted in a report that while increasing home care trends were already occurring before the pandemic, several innovations are continuing to drive a shift to home care. These include new technology for delivering remote care, an improved consumer digital experience, and advances in data analytics. 

A survey within that report revealed that 73% of patients would rather recover at home instead of at a hospital after a major medical event.

Also in the realm of distributed care, coronavirus vaccine and testing sites emerged during the pandemic, operated at times by the government, but also by major pharmacy chains and other entities. 

Many of these sites remain operational, although some of the large sites that were only temporary could potentially be reconstituted if another pandemic or related emergency were to recur in the future. 

Related: Last responders: Deathcare workers in the age of COVID-19

Traveling nurses

An increase in traveling nurses is another side effect of the pandemic. Their use has been widely reported as necessary for shoring up medical care at understaffed hospitals that are coping with deluges of COVID-19 patients amid overall staffing concerns. 

Pandemic-related shortages dovetail with the underlying causes of broader nursing shortage trends as reported in Nurse Journal:

  • An aging general population that needs care

  • An aging nursing workforce nearing retirement

  • Faculty shortages at the educational institutions that train nurses

  • Nurse “stress and burnout” resulting in turnover.

Weekly pay estimates can be between $1,300 and $7,276 for ICU travel nurses, according to sample job listings on American Traveler, and may exceed the 2020 median pay of $75,330 for registered nurses cited by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. 

Higher pay might be another reason the traveling nurse trend could continue, and why clinicians may become more accustomed to seeing traveling nurses in their healthcare settings. 

Consumer wearables

While the average physician may be focused on day-to-day patient care within a hospital or practice setting, the coronavirus pandemic—combined with technological innovations—has introduced wide-ranging studies on products that could impact medical care virtually anywhere.

A study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering revealed that data from consumer smartwatches can be used to detect COVID-19. By retrospectively analyzing users’ smartwatch data for heart rate, number of steps they took, and how much they slept, researchers determined that 63% of the COVID-19 cases they studied could have been detected in real-time prior to the patients’ developing symptoms. 

However, at least for now, the types of symptoms detected by smartwatches are not unique to COVID-19, and therefore may indicate illness, but not necessarily COVID-19. 

Will everyday HCPs use patients’ consumer wearable devices to detect a wide range of illnesses? Time will tell. 

What this means for you

Although many changes in the healthcare industry appeared to be temporary fixes during a pandemic, some are here to stay.

Physicians have become accustomed to increased infection control measures during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as using telemedicine, interacting with traveling nurses, and managing patients receiving home healthcare. Trends like these that were in motion prior to 2020 have further increased during the pandemic, and may well be sustained in the future.


  1. CareCentrix, Inc. Health-at-Home 2020: The New Standard of Care Delivery. 2020.

  2. Hamlin K. Why Is There a Nursing Shortage? Nurse Journal. November 11, 2021.

  3. ICU Travel Nurse Jobs. American Traveler.

  4. Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic. CDC. February 2, 2022.

  5. McKinsey & Company. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? July 9, 2021.

  6. Mishra T, Wang M, Metwally AA, et al. Pre-symptomatic detection of COVID-19 from smartwatch data. Nat Biomed Eng. 2020;4(12):1208-1220.

  7. Most new Jobs. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. September 8, 2021.

  8. New Jersey Hospital Association. Loss, Lessons, Lives Saved: New Jersey’s Pandemic Year. 2021. 

Read Next: 4 health technology trends to watch in 2022
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