OBJECTIVES: The study investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services with and without specific health care of COVID-19 patients through the eyes of leading physicians at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE).
METHODS: From April 30 to May 12, 2020, four interviewers conducted 38 expert interviews via telephone, video or face-to-face by using a semi-standardized questionnaire. The standardized answers were analysed descriptively. The free text-answers were subject to a qualitative content analysis. The categories were analysed via quantitative frequency distributions.
RESULTS: All chief physicians with responsibility for inpatient and outpatient health care at the UKE took part in this study (N=38). The leading physicians reported numerous changes regarding occupancy in the hospital, patient composition, work flows and diagnostic as well as therapeutic measures. Additionally, various arrangements were necessary to cover the needs of prevention, treatment and follow-up care as well as protection of staff. Measures showed, on the one hand, a strong reduction in occupancy and workload in most inpatient and outpatient clinics. On the other hand, the amount of work also increased by fundamental transitions of work flows, communication, staff structure and hygiene measures. Many respondents commented positively on the rapid and efficient setup of a digital communication structure. Partially, staff was strained by the pandemic itself and by the associated measures.
CONCLUSION: The results of the study help to understand and assess the effects of the pandemic on health care, work flows and staff. The findings may support the specification and adaptation of prospective measures and processes for pandemic crisis situations. Future studies should investigate how staff beneath the highest executive level experienced and evaluated this crisis and consequences.