While COVID-19 was not an anticipated crisis, its effects will be long-term. The pandemic will likely transform healthcare more so than any other sector, changing the way organizations deliver care, how their workforces go about providing services, the way supplies are procured, and the role that health leaders play in society.

The results of the 2021 Healthcare CEO Future Pulse make clear that the industry itself was unready for the pandemic. Fewer than half of executives surveyed (44 percent) agree that their organizations were well-prepared for the arrival of COVID-19. Fewer (41 percent) had a pandemic scenario response as part of their strategic plan.

As dark clouds go, COVID-19 continues to hang over many geographies – in particular lower- and middle-income countries and territories. But looking forward cautiously, there appears to be one silver lining: the pandemic as a positive accelerant for change.

While many executives (62 percent) said their organizations were actively pursuing a transformation agenda prior to COVID-19, nearly all (97 percent) agree that the pandemic “significantly accelerated” their transformation efforts. For an industry where a strong majority of executives (80 percent) believe their industry “needs disruption and change,” any accelerating factor, even COVID-19, should be seen as an opportunity to recognize vulnerabilities and embed resilience. Moving forward, healthcare organizations and the ecosystems that surround them should ensure change scenarios are built into plans.

So, what’s on the change trajectory? According to the CEOs surveyed, changes will appear in their approaches to their workforces (68 percent), digital delivery models (65 percent), care delivery models (62 percent), and operations (62 percent).

The COVID effect, speedometer illustration
Approaches being fundamentally revised due to COVID-19, chart graphic


Key takeaway

  • Most organizations surveyed recognize the need to improve and transform. The question is which dimension to put first? Most are primarily focusing on supporting their people, then changing their delivery models and operations, followed by evolving their back-office capabilities.

How to take action

Healthcare organizations and the systems around them should anticipate ‘black swan’ events that can drastically disrupt their operations. COVID-19 and its mutations can be an expected norm going forward1 that needs to be included and anticipated in organizational and system-wide strategies. Apart from that, COVID-19 is exemplary of the stress healthcare systems will be under in the coming years, necessitating fundamental transformation in how care is delivered, and evolving their workforces to support this.


1 Phillips, N. (2021 February 16). The coronavirus is here to stay — here’s what that means. Nature.
Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00396-2