By Mike Sutten, chief technology officer, and Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer, Innovaccer.
Burdensome documentation and gaps in care have been long-standing challenges in the healthcare industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified those challenges on a global level, creating a situation in which people have been hesitant to seek care for other medical concerns. As such, healthcare providers are losing revenue, employees are losing their jobs, and those remaining in the workforce are subject to burnout.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many healthcare providers proactively reduced or stopped in-person visits for non-COVID-19 medical needs, ranging from the routine care of a sore throat to treatment of chronic conditions, cancer, and even mental health services.
Additionally, nearly one-third of American adults reported delaying or avoiding medical visits over concerns for possible exposure to the virus, according to an American College of Emergency Physicians and Morning Consult poll. More than half reported worrying about access to their primary care physician or being turned away from the hospital.
As a result, healthcare spending decreased by 18% in the first quarter of 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Surprisingly, some 1.4 million healthcare workers lost their jobs in April, a sharp increase from the 42,000 reported in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The global pandemic amplifies the day-to-day challenges of identifying gaps in care, the increased documentation required to track them, and the difficulties associated with determining their effects and responding with appropriate interventions.
The impact of this virus looms over the backdrop of a healthcare environment in which the American Hospital Association (AHA) makes the point is rapidly evolving from a fee-for-service system into a value-based delivery system. As healthcare providers and payers transition to collaborative digital care delivery models, this movement highlights the greater need for a data infrastructure that supports value-based care with sharper and more transparent insights into population health.
Ever since the SARS-CoV-2 virus—better known as COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus—appeared on the world stage in December 2019, the scientific community has been searching for a way to fight it. With the onset of the pandemic, the world engaged in social distancing, followed stay-at-home orders, wore personal protective equipment, and reacquainted themselves with proper handwashing techniques—effectively dampening the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
However, May 2020 saw the death toll quickly approaching 400,000, and it became clear that efforts to find a way to prevent and treat the virus were more critical than ever. SARS-CoV-2 and Viral Therapies SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus (the source of the common name used in the media). Coronaviruses typically affect the upper and lower respiratory tracts, making it difficult to breathe. These viruses range from mild, as is the case with several of the seven currently recognized types, to severe: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), SARS, and COVID-19 are examples of severe forms of coronavirus that can cause respiratory failure, shock, and death. Since SARS-CoV-2 is a virus, it isn’t susceptible to the antibiotics used to treat bacterial respiratory infections. For viruses, researchers have discovered therapeutics that utilize antibodies to attack the proteins on a virus’s surface. These monoclonal antibodies specifically target vulnerable proteins and are used in several therapeutic pharmaceuticals that have shown promise in treating and preventing different viruses.
A major subject of concern amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic spread and related financial crisis is- could this situation be the trigger for a new era of technology and emergence of widespread acclamation of digital health platforms and applications?
The massive outbreak of dreaded coronavirus has brought about a radical change in what is usually perceived as “normal.” With over more than million cases worldwide, COVID-19 has sent a wave of fear across the masses, causing an upheaval not only in their lives but also across various economies and businesses, given the stringent lockdown policies.
Major industry verticals have been touted to be severely affected by the pandemic explosion. However, one of the industries that has been successful in keeping its business alive amid the ongoing financial crisis is the digital health market. The corona pandemic has demonstrated the pivotal role of digital health in the medical fraternity. Although digital health was already on the rise before the humongous pandemic spread, in the wake of the virus, it will become an integral part of the routine medical treatment in the years ahead.
At this time, digital health stands as an ideal solution for both the healthcare professionals and patients as it completely reduces the risk of infection spread while offering complete and accurate healthcare expertise. While the global scientific community is racing towards development of effective vaccines or therapeutics, digital health remains the most essential defense.
The proliferation of artificial intelligence, cutting-edge technologies, and big-data have been majorly responsible for advancing digital health and are expected to drive the demand for the same over the next few years. COVID-19 undeniably, is anticipated to stay for a longer period of time due to delay in proper treatment methods and vaccines.
In this scenario, numerous tech firms are trying to get involved in digital health while undertaking various distinctive measures. For instance, IBM, a tech giant, in March, announced the launch of coronavirus map and application for keeping a track of COVID-19 infections.
According to official sources, the company’s The Weather Channel has introduced new tools for tracking coronavirus infection. The app would showcase estimated COVID-19 cases on the map that would further help individuals and business establishments to keep a track on the spread of virus around them. Above that, the free tools are likely to run on the IBM public cloud and implement IBM Watson with an intent of scrutinizing data from the WHO in tandem with state and national government bodies.
Even before the outbreak, digital technology was at peak in China and was extensively used to accelerate, optimize, and complement health care services, which enabled the region to make use of these in difficult times like the ongoing health crisis.
By Erin Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer, Sermo.
This year has presented a continuous string of unprecedented challenges around the world and in all aspects of life. Individuals, organizations and industries needed to adapt quickly to a “new normal,” which in some cases may prove to change the facets of healthcare delivery permanently.
Healthcare, typically known to be slow-moving with all of its complexities, has had to adjust rapidly to meet increasing patient cases and demands, creating problems which are hopefully only short term. For example, independent medical practices have been closing as they struggle to bring in revenue by losing patients “walking through the door.” In addition, over 1.4 million healthcare jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic and the AHA estimated that America’s hospitals could lose $202.6 billion by the end of June.
Conversely, the pandemic has spurred innovation, adoption of tools and galvanized more efficient processes that actually demonstrate better success for patients and physicians. Taking a step back to look at the bigger health system, practices may never go back to their pre-pandemic ways due to this success – whether in efficiency, patient outcomes, physician workload or otherwise – revealing the lasting impact of COVID-19.
While the pandemic has significantly impacted the number of patients coming to the clinic, it has also spurred physician adoption of remote and telehealth treatment. These changes not only serve more people and provide more patient-centric care (e.g. allowing flexibility in scheduling, taking less time off work, filling out paperwork online at a person’s own convenience) but can also aid providers in maintaining a high level of care while streamlining processes and efficiency of their work. For example, telehealth systems can integrate patient records easily into a check-up and physicians can observe environmental factors of a patient’s health that they would not get in-office.
It is clear that COVID-19 is changing how medicine is practiced, such as what technology is being implemented, how patients are receiving care and figuring out adjusted treatment regimens that may be more successful. So, how will the pandemic permanently change medicine and the patient-provider relationship? How do providers feel about this time of transition and what will healthcare look like after the pandemic?
Telehealth has been an essential tool that has demonstrated its full value during this time. Physicians recognize the loss of revenue of not having patients coming into their practice, so they have used different telehealth tools to create a “virtual front door” to continue treating patients and keeping their business afloat.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine visits have been able to provide an increasing number of patients with virtual access to quality care without requiring in-person appointments.
However, many patients are still reluctant to accept telemedicine as an option, due to fears concerning out of pocket costs. Let us go over how telemedicine companies charge patients and the different ways that it can be the more affordable option.
How Telemedicine Companies Charge You
Paying Cash Per Visit
Several telemedicine companies ask patients to pay cash for each visit, which allows uninsured patients quick and easy access to healthcare professionals. A 2017 study shows that the average cost of a telemedicine visit is $79, compared to $149 for the average doctor’s office visit.
Paying Through Insurance
Many telemedicine companies work ‘one on one’ with doctors, who bill your telemedicine visit to your health insurance, providing an even more affordable option for many patients. As telemedicine becomes increasingly more popular, health insurance plans are starting to offer coverage for telemedicine visits on a more widespread basis. Your insurance may even cover medication prescribed to you by a telemedicine provider.
How Telemedicine Saves You Money
Eliminates Transportation Costs
An important way that telemedicine is more affordable than in-person visits is that virtual appointments eliminate the cost of transportation. With telemedicine, you can enjoy access to quality care without paying for public transportation, ride-sharing, gas or parking costs. This can be especially beneficial for families living in rural areas and forced to travel long distances to meet with their provider in person.
Eliminates Childcare Costs
Another factor making telemedicine more affordable is the elimination of childcare costs associated with a parent’s ‘in office visit’. Parents can attend a 15-20 minute virtual doctor’s appointment in the comfort of their own home, without the worry and expense of hiring a sitter for their children, traveling the 2-3 hours to and from their appointment, sitting in the waiting room, and time meeting with the doctor.
More Affordable Than In-Person Visits
Even paying out of pocket for telemedicine appointments, they are still more affordable than in-person visits. The cost of a telemedicine session is not only less out of pocket but results in lower co-pays if your coverage is through insurance. Cost sharing will vary based on your insurance plan, but by and large insurers compensate providers for telemedicine but at lower rates, which translates into lower patient co-pays too.
Numerous follow-up appointments can rack up costly co-pays and transportation costs for such a short visit. With a quick telemedicine appointment, you can continue receiving quality care at an affordable price, right at home or work.
Telemedicine platforms offer the more affordable healthcare option for both the insured and uninsured, while also eliminating the costs associated with physical visits. Be sure to check out platforms like Adviiseto find out how your insurance can help cover telemedicine visits. It is the modern doctor’s house call.
By Dr. Chris Hobson, chief medical officer, Orion Health.
Health information exchanges (HIEs) represent a key piece of health information technology and are ideal tools to assist providers and managers in flattening the COVID-19 case count and fatality curves. HIEs were designed from the start to enable “right care to the right patient at the right place.”
Getting real-time, complete clinical information to where it’s needed, when it’s needed assists clinicians in the delivery of individual patient care. By virtue of the high-quality data held on every patient across a population, HIEs are also rapidly becoming essential tools in population health management. Real-time, high-quality data is essential for clinical and public health decision making.
The emergence of COVID-19 illustrates how high-quality individualized data can be leveraged to help a population level effort.
COVID-19 offers the challenge and opportunity to apply HIE capabilities in a flexible way to the management of a novel infectious disease where public health measures of social distancing, contact tracing, testing and isolation are so far the only real options for management.
A range of HIE functionalities and capabilities add value here. One is the ability to generate configurable notifications to providers based on new information arriving in the HIE. The first notification type tells providers when their patients have tested positive. This can be achieved easily based on the arrival of a positive test for COVID-19 into the HIE. Providers can subscribe to alerts for specific patients, or all of their patients.
By Mark Gross, senior principal product manager, Kofax
When it comes to data security, healthcare organizations are stuck between a rock and a hard place. To provide proper patient care, their staff needs access to the right information, and quickly. At the same time, the law requires them to protect the sensitive data included in electronic medical records (EMR).
A wide array of devices are used to collect and transmit patient data – including computers, mobile devices, IV pumps and X-ray machines. Today, all of these are connected to the internet, the hospital network and other medical technologies, even though many of them have few, or no, security protocols in place.
The situation’s made even more complex by the public nature of hospital environments. Many connected devices containing sensitive data are left unattended, leaving the entire network exposed. The result’s an increase in cyber and data security threats.
Right now, nearly all healthcare organizations are facing an added challenge brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Many healthcare workers aren’t working in their normal environments, they’re helping in other departments, hospitals and even pop-up field hospitals. With all the displaced healthcare workers, their normal print and capture workflows are left behind with their devices—and the security of the patient data contained in documents printed or scanned elsewhere may be at risk.
Healthcare organizations need a comprehensive security strategy to protect against a breach. The best of these is a systematic approach that tests all connected devices for vulnerabilities. Once identified, security threats should be prioritized so the most severe can be addressed quickly. Regular software updates and patches are just as important, as is replacing outdated equipment with new devices that have security built in.
Because they don’t stand out as threats, multifunction devices, printers and imaging devices are often overlooked during security reviews. In reality, however, both of these handle a lot more data than people realize.
As the number of COVID-19 cases increases and social distancing measures remain, telehealth is making an integral contribution to healthcare. You could even say it has become a lifesaver.
A great way to reduce coronavirus spread and promote social distancing, telehealth enables stable patients to stay home while communicating with healthcare providers and receiving virtual medical care. It includes everything from making online appointments to conducting primary care visits through video chat – and is being adopted with greater frequency than ever.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “leveraging telemedicine whenever possible is the best way to protect patients and staff from COVID-19.”
Clearly, telehealth is an important tool that helps protect healthcare professionals and patients alike during these times. Yet even before the recent surge, telehealth visits were changing healthcare relationships for the better.
A January 2019 study published in The American Journal of Managed Care found that telehealth visits provide numerous benefits, including convenience for both the patients and healthcare providers.
The study concluded that virtual visits rated high among most patients, with most saying they would recommend telehealth appointments to family and friends. Patients also said it saved them the time it would take to visit to and from an appointment. Most patients and physicians said communication wasn’t lost through virtual visits.
For healthcare professionals, video visits are more efficient than in-office appointments, allowing them to see more patients each day. Telehealth also gives practices the option to extend hours without staffing an office. And recently, it has allowed healthcare professionals quarantined because of COVID-19 to treat patients remotely.
By Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell
While proper hand hygiene, personal protective equipment, social distancing, testing, and therapeutics are all valid and useful measures in the battle against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, a safe, effective vaccine is the only path to normal. It is the ultimate game-changer. As one reader recently wrote to The Buffalo News, “Without a COVID-19 vaccine, there is no Hollywood ending.”
It certainly won’t be easy. In general, over 90% of vaccine candidates fail, and vaccines usually take several years, not months, to develop. Despite 33 attempts at a vaccine for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which spread worldwide in a few months from China in 2002, no SARS vaccine exists today.
Similarly, for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which started in Jordan in April 2012 and spread to a total of 27 countries, all 13 vaccine candidates to date have failed.
As of this writing, the novel coronavirus has infected 5.6 million persons and caused some 350 thousand deaths across over 200 countries. It is highly transmissible—spread by even asymptomatic individuals—and it is “wily,” as it has mutated over a dozen times. In short, it constitutes an epochal challenge for all of humankind.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic about the chances for successful development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
By Justin Fier, director of cyber intelligence and analytics, Darktrace
As the healthcare sector struggles against the COVID-19 crisis, working tirelessly to protect staff and patients while struggling with worsening economic realities, cybercriminals around the world are seeing a golden opportunity to attack.
Overwhelming demand, exhausted staff, IT teams pulled in multiple directions, and a critical reliance on technology to treat patients mean that adversaries have never had more opportunity or incentive to attack healthcare organizations.
By locking healthcare providers out of critical systems at this critical time, attackers can force them to pay a ransom to recover access or face adding to the already grim death toll.
Recently, an advisory was jointly issued by CISA and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). This joint alert stemmed from the increase in state-sponsored attacks against organizations connected to COVID-19 research and response. These include pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, government agencies, research institutes, and more.