By Ken Perez, marketing and strategy advisor to Vindeca Health and former vice president of healthcare policy and government affairs, Omnicell.
On Jan. 30, the Biden administration notified Congress that it plans to let the public health emergency (PHE) and the national emergency declarations related to the COVID-19 pandemic expire on May 11. The end of these declarations logically follows President Joe Biden’s “Sixty Minutes” interview that aired on Sept. 18, 2022 during which he stated, “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it, but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
Accordingly, on February 9, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cited these developments since the peak of the Omicron surge at the end of January 2022 to justify the end of the two emergency declarations:
Daily COVID-19 reported cases are down 92%
COVID-19 deaths have declined by over 80%; and
New COVID-19 hospitalizations are down nearly 80%
On Jan. 31, 2020, then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar, under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, declared a public health emergency because of the continued spread of COVID-19. As of that date, there had been an estimated 16 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., nearly 10,000 people had been diagnosed with the virus globally, and more than 200 had died, all in China. The following day, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on every aspect of American life, but the health care sector- particularly emergency care – has been hardest hit.
The overwhelming number and cost care for COVID-19 patients has pushed health care professionals to exhaustion, forced some facilities to ration care or close, and has led to significantly delayed access to care for all. In this crisis, every option must be utilized to ensure crucial resources are maximized and patients receive the care they need.
Pre-pandemic, the average ER wait time in the United States was around 40 minutes. At the height of the current Delta variant, ER waits increased to several hours, or longer. More than 10 states have recently reached their highest hospital admissions of the pandemic. From the Southeast to the Pacific Northwest, patients are seeking alternative emergency room care.
To avoid having to endure packed waiting rooms full of potential COVID-19 patients, many doctors are urging patients to consider alternatives, including freestanding ERs. As the pandemic surges, freestanding ERs are playing a crucial in relieving stress on community hospital systems and improving patient care.
Safe, Faster Service and Less Waiting
Outside of COVID-19, emergency room overcrowding can be dangerous for patients and is considered a severe public health issue. For sick and injured patients, long wait times can result in complications and more detrimental outcomes, even death. Ensuring emergency room access that is readily available, fully staffed, and stocked is the key to patient satisfaction, safety, and better overall patient outcomes. By offering COVID-19 testing and treatment, freestanding ERs in certain regions, like Texas and Oklahoma, have helped thousands of patients avoid crowded waiting rooms and receive sterling care.
Early in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported the proportion of ER visits for exposure and contact with infectious diseases (COVID-19) was nearly four times higher than previous years. More people sought out alternative treatment options due to the sheer number of patients crowding hospitals.
Freestanding ERs are smaller, typically less trafficked than mainstream hospitals, and often owned by fully accredited emergency room physicians. In some cases, they have direct agreements with payers, such as mid-sized businesses, and other providers as referral sources. These facilities are often located in underserved areas and offer an invaluable resource to the local community. In these cases, freestanding ERs provide PCR tests and access to critical treatments that are otherwise unavailable.
COVID-19 brought its fair share of trials and tests with it. Not only has it taken lives, infected millions, and left thousands unemployed, but it has also changed the course of society as we know it. A new normal has taken over: social distancing, face masks, frequent medical visits, and a shift online.
With millions of cases around the world, medical professionals have their work cut out for them. Healthcare workers have to manage other patients, their education, and the rising number of COVID-19 cases at the same time. Managing their time in such cases can be a tough challenge to overcome.
As a healthcare professional, if you have a hard time managing time, this article is for you. We will be talking about six things you can incorporate into your daily routine to help with time management
Prioritize your tasks
With college deadlines piling up, work commitments to attend to, and managing your daily chores, you may feel overwhelmed at times. Most medical practitioners are studying something or another most of the time.
Whether it’s a subject to diversify their expertise or something that will help them grow in their field, chances are, you will see them with their face buried in books after their shift ends. With mounting deadlines, you may want to look at tackling the most critical tasks first.
Not only does this reduce stress, but it ensures that the consequences of missed deadlines decrease as you move through your tasks. It wouldn’t make sense to start with the most trivial tasks and leave the big ones for the end. Missing those could have far-reaching implications which may affect your career.
Following a year marked by one challenging headline after another in 2020, news in the fight against COVID-19 will likely turn better in 2021 thanks to improved treatments and the arrival of effective vaccines. From a Health IT standpoint, however, both the good news and the bad are together fueling a steady growth in data volumes and complexity that will require new levels of IT coordination and data management.
The reason for this is that medical professionals now have a year’s worth of health metrics on the spread of COVID-19 and reams of structured, unstructured, and behavioral data on treatment regimens and patient outcomes. At the same time, a similar avalanche of data is growing around the administration and efficacy of newly-approved vaccines. Taken together, these factors present challenges of both complexity and scale.
Let’s take a look at three resulting trends we’ll likely see in 2021 as data-driven professionals seek to address these challenges through better ways to leverage information for insight and action against the global pandemic.
Trend 1: Enhanced adoption of common health IT data standards – Whether it’s through the ANSI-accredited Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) schema or similar frameworks, we’ll see a push to standardize health-related data across mobile phone apps, cloud communications, EHR-based data sharing, server communication in large institutional healthcare providers, and more. The goal is to break down silos between these disparate data sources and platforms. And there’s a cultural component to the silo-busting as well, in that common standards and definitions for data can also help technologists and business users collaborate more efficiently. That can be a challenge in any domain area; but in the case of COVID-19, success around seamless, secure, and proactive analysis of data can literally save lives.
The Strategic Health Information Collaborative (SHIEC) Annual Conference took place again, this time as a five-week virtual event from August 17 to September 15.
Having come to grips with my lost opportunity to socialize with several hundred of my closest friends and colleagues, the fact that this year’s SHIEC sessions were spaced out over such a long stretch of time provided an interesting opportunity to reflect on the state of affairs in health information exchange (HIE).
In one sense, the 2020 conference resembled previous years – a gathering of largely the same group of industry representatives who eat, sleep and breathe HIE and reinforce among ourselves what we already know to be true.
We already know that our healthcare system will improve only as health information exchange improves. We already know we will never have a truly efficient and effective healthcare system until:
we are able to acquire, validate, and normalize health records from all points of care
we are able to curate and present records in a meaningful way at the point of care
we establish workable standards for interoperability between systems and networks
we remove the barriers to sharing healthcare information
we provide public health services with comprehensive, high quality health data in a timely manner
These are inarguable truths, yet many of us are frustrated with the painstakingly slow progress we seem to make year-upon-year.
Finding new revenue opportunities and avoiding claims denials has taken on greater urgency as hospitals and other healthcare organizations face growing reimbursement shortfalls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is why Hayes, makers of the industry’s leading integrated compliance and revenue integrity platform for the nation’s premier healthcare organizations, has launched Revenue Optimizer to equip healthcare organizations with actionable insights that help eliminate barriers to revenue integrity and manage overall financial performance.
A study commissioned by the American Hospital Association (AHA) found that many U.S. hospitals were struggling with ongoing operational losses well before COVID-19, and the median hospital margin overall was a razor-thin 3.5%.
Even with government support from the CARES Act, these margins were projected to drop to -7% in the second half of 2020 without further federal intervention. The study also concluded that, post-pandemic, at least half of the nation’s hospitals would continue operating with margins in the red without any additional support.
“Adding to existing bottom-line struggles, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services identified $29 billion in improper payments in 2019—a trend that will continue as regulatory scrutiny turns to COVID-19 incentive payments.
Further, the addition of nearly 750 new CPT and ICD-10 codes—on top of COVID-19 changes—has created a compliance nightmare that will only exacerbate a devastating financial impact if healthcare organizations can’t stop the hemorrhaging,” said Hayes CTO Ritesh Ramesh, noting that Hayes identified a 20% increase in denials totaling $2.5 billion related to COVID-19 coding and reimbursement challenges alone in the first half of 2020 among MDaudit Enterprise cohorts.
The use of Telehealth services has seen remarkable growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent research found that 67% of Americans have used telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is up from 46% prior to COVID-19. One might wonder if this growth is temporary or poised for more long-term growth post-pandemic.
To learn more about the growing trend of telehealth use, my agency worked with a data management firm to survey the American public about their experiences using telehealth during COVID-19 and whether or not they plan to continue to use these virtual medical services in the future.
Telehealth and Covid-19
One immediate observation that we learned as a result of this analysis is that 71% of Americans are currently fearful to visit their doctor’s office due to COVID-19. Because of these fears, many people have shifted towards using telehealth services during the pandemic. While 63% of respondents were originally apprehensive about their first telehealth visit, 72% reported enjoying their first telehealth experience.
What patients like most about telehealth
Why do patients prefer seeing a doctor virtually as opposed to in-person? Convivence safety and flexibility with appointments were the top responses. Many patients are shifting to telehealth as a means to avoid potential virus exposure.
Shorter wait-times are also driving people to telehealth appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients reported spending less time both between scheduling the appointment and the visit as well as time spent waiting in a virtual waiting room to be seen.
Access to care is another positive trend from increased telehealth use during COVID-19. Eighty percent (80%) of surveyed respondents believe telehealth has improved their ability to receive access to care during the pandemic. Seventy percent (70%) feel that telehealth provides adequate care and 65% believe telehealth provides accurate diagnosis to symptoms.
Telehealth visits also have the potential to replace some medical visits depending on the severity of the ailment. Sixty-six percent of our surveyed respondents feel telehealth will ultimately end up replacing in-person doctor visits that don’t require hands-on exams; 69% said they are less likely to use an ER or urgent care for non-life-threatening visits in the future if telehealth becomes more available.
Life as we know has it changed in many different ways, and one of the biggest factors is how we go about our daily lives and how we may operate businesses in the future. The threat of COVID-19 has not gone away, and there are things that we need to start thinking about now that lockdown is easing and restrictions are being lifted. However, what can you do to better conform to the changes and this transition period we are in?
The truth is, technology can help. As this has a lot to do with health and wellbeing, for you personally and also the customers that you may have, is there anyway that technology is helping to make this easier? The answer is yes.
From applications that you can use, to help handheld technology that makes life easier, we wanted to highlight some of the ways technology will help businesses to thrive during this pandemic and for the future as we face this new normal.
Technology enhancements to help within business
There are a lot of things that you might need to think about when it comes to your business aspects and embracing new applications and technology enhancements will help you to succeed in your business and move forward. Applications for tracking and tracing. Apps for collecting customer data and also thinking about making things contactless.
This might be contactless technology for payment or logistics with delivery methods. There is a lot to think about when it comes to your business and technology can help you sail through this strange period. This is when you may need to think about seeking advice from experts in technology business consulting could be a great move as your business needs to navigate contactless sales and also manage customers in a different way. This will only help you to understand the levels of technology that could be implicated within your business to help it thrive now.
Keeping customer details up to date
It is now more important than ever to have the right data of customers stored and to keep these things secure. Which is why software that can help with customer relationship management could be a big plus point for your business now.
Not only is it good for business to have something like a CRM system in place, but with there being more focus on understanding and analyzing where people go for the safety of communities, having this information can be really helpful in the future.
A CRM system is also a useful tool to have the details of your customers to help with marketing. Now more than ever you need to encourage customers to deal with your business and to also help them understand how they can purchase from you and move forward.
Track and trace apps to understand the spread
The government is wanting to try and understand the spread of the virus in the very best way that they can, and this might mean that they need to look at tracking and tracing people’s whereabouts. For example, if your business had 10 people turn up in a day, then a few days later one of those people tested positive for covid-19, then they would need to inform other people in the vicinity that may have been in close contact with that person, including yourself. Track and trace help to manage the spread, and using applications for your business to collate and collect the data is important to help your business to continue to work effectively.
Delivery apps for contactless delivery methods
Another thing that you may need to do is to consider using delivery applications. If your business provides products that can be delivered, then it may be a good idea to focus on tactless delivery methods. This is when using delivery app services and courtiers who have come up with solutions to combat this would be a great help.
It enables the customer to track their parcel, allows them to do things such as provide a safe place or drop off location, and then avoids them having to get in close proximity with them. It might be a small change for you as a business to implement this sort of technology and process, but it could mean a great deal to your customer to feel extra protected when dealing with you as a business.
Understanding ecommerce and making more of it
Another thing that you might need to think about now as a business is the ecommerce and digital side of things. Perhaps during lockdown you reverted to an online system so that you could continue to maintain orders, but a shop is likely not going to be the first choice for people moving forward. Understanding the ecommerce side of things is important to help your business to thrive.
Diversifying the way you have done business during lockdown may have opened your eyes to the possibilities and also expanding your customer reach. A great tip would be to spend some time enhancing the digital aspect of your business. Such as a new website. You could also use this opportunity to link it to social media platforms and work on a strategy to keep them updated. After all, so many are seeking information in the online world that you need your business to adapt, and quick.
Finally, if you do have a business location that is opening up then you may want to invest in a digital and contactless thermometer. These are handheld devices where if you wave it in front of the year do for someone it will tell you their temperature.
As a high temperature is a huge factor in the symptoms of covid-19 this could be an essential to help you keep you and everyone in your business safe. Before people enter the business, customers and staff, they could use this handheld device to ensure that their temperature is where it needs to be.
Let’s hope these suggestions help you when it comes to technology in your business.