From the Frontlines

A Message from Dr. Beckerman, Medical Director, WebMD Health Services

Each morning, I settle into my office, otherwise known as my kitchen table. I carefully place my coffee cup outside the video window. I check my hair—the #coronacut I gave myself a month ago is starting to grow in. I switch my virtual background to a longing landscape of the still snow-capped Oregon mountains. And yes, I’m wearing pants. I press admit on my mobile phone screen and say “hello.” My patient is ready

But let’s be honest—the healthcare industry isn’t well known for being flexible. While we champion innovation within patient care, like new medications and cutting-edge therapies, we tend to be a little bit behind the curve when it comes to technology. Medical offices are probably one of the few hold-outs still using fax machines, and who can forget when physicians retired en masse once faced with the reality of using electronic health records just a few years ago?

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in every way. But it has disrupted healthcare in one refreshing direction—it has forced us to meet our patients where they are. In an address to Harvard Medical School students nearly one hundred years ago, Dr. Francis W. Peabody noted, “the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” But the business of healthcare has been notoriously less patient-centered. Historically, patients traveled to where the doctor was. They compromised their own work and family responsibilities to serve the doctor’s schedule. House calls were as nostalgic as Francis Peabody’s words. Until the coronavirus, that is. Today, I speak to my patients in their living rooms, their kitchens. I see family photos on the bookshelves behind them. I laugh with spouses and children as they shelter in place, together. And they see me, without a white coat. My cat sits purring on my lap. We view each other with a fresher perspective.

Healthcare has pivoted in ways that inspire all of us. From the selflessness of frontline workers in hospitals to the redeployment of office staff to other duties—these heroes deserve every single 7:00 p.m. shoutout that we can muster. But another shift in the tide has quietly become a tsunami. Our ability to transition nearly 100% of our outpatient work to smartphones and kitchen tables says a lot about healthcare workers, too. And it also says a lot about the workplace. The workplace can change, but it can still have meaning.

At WebMD Health Services, we are constantly thinking about how the workplace impacts the health of its workers. For years, we have seen trends toward fewer walls, more common spaces, less privacy—all in the name of community. Workplace design was rethought as a strategy for promoting productivity, cooperation and worker satisfaction. Employers realized that creating a healthier workplace could help nurture even healthier workers.

But now, the definition of the workplace has changed. Cubicles, offices, and water coolers have given way to kitchen tables, children and pets. And much like within healthcare, the workplace is now strangely more worker-centered than ever. So how can employers support their workers in this new normal? How can employers disrupt the workplace to make it even better? By meeting their workers where they are. 

Employers can champion work-life balance by helping workers compartmentalize their work-from-home lives and their stay-at-home lives by encouraging phone calls, emails and deadlines to keep within the workday. They can support seventh-inning stretches and scheduled breaks to keep heads clear and legs limber. They can promote community with leader-initiated updates, exercise classes and social get-togethers. They can leverage the flexibility and portability of workplace wellness programs. This is the time to pivot. To dig deep. And to double down on our commitment to our colleagues and the people we serve. Because the definition of the frontline has changed. As so has the definition of the workplace. Let’s commit to supporting our employees with the same passion and genuineness that they have shown in supporting our healthcare workers. They are ready.