UnitedHealthcare Global leader’s perspective from the COVID-19 front line

In Portugal, there have been nearly 800,000 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of last year and over 16,000 deaths — the sixth highest per capita rate in Europe. For clinical leaders navigating the pandemic, the humanization of care became a critical issue, as organizations worked to adapt to a new reality of physical distancing and protective equipment, as well as stress on ICU capacity.    

Dr. Ana Prado is the chief medical information officer at Lusíadas Saúde, UnitedHealthcare Global's health care delivery business in Portugal. Her clinical role is based in Cascais Hospital, with her time divided between the internal medicine department and the emergency room, as a medical leader. She shares her perspective on preparing for — and then navigating — COVID-19. For herself, her team and the business, developing resilience has played a major role in facing the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. 

What is the biggest challenge you initially faced during the pandemic?
The biggest challenge that we had right away was that we had to redefine our systems in place to deliver care to patients, as well as the patient journey throughout the hospital — adapted to this new infectious disease context. We really had to look at all the touchpoints of the patient in the hospital and make sure that the new processes were well-designed and well-built with everything needed to provide the best care possible.

What measures did you take to ensure teams were on the same page?

The glue to this all has been our clear communication throughout the whole organization. From top to bottom, the channels really have been open. I think this has helped us all to be aligned with our strategy, to adapt and to keep on the same wave as everyone else.

What challenges are you facing now, and in the months to come?

Everyone is very tired — very, very tired. (It’s challenging) to keep people healthy, motivated and strong enough to continue to provide care, because this is such important work where mistakes can't be made, where there's a great responsibility and there are lots of physical hours. We really have to keep reinforcing that when people are off work, they have to rest, and I mean they really have to rest.

That's definitely the biggest challenge now. Also, because we're in the third wave still, to continue to provide excellent quality of care is definitely a challenge when we're tired. When there are so many patients, sometimes it's difficult to prioritize care.

How has collaboration across UnitedHealthcare Global helped to support your efforts and execution?

It’s always a relief and a joy to share knowledge, to share experiences and ideas, and even mistakes and discuss what we did wrong. And this has always been encouraged and made possible through (UnitedHealthcare) Global and so we're very grateful for that.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned during the pandemic? 

It brings out a side of people that wouldn't have been brought out in normal circumstances: Ingenuity, courage, a team spirit, unity. I think we've all been on this road to growth and it's been a hell of a journey. But I think we'll definitely come out stronger in the end.