How COVID-19 is Changing Everything in Healthcare

The following op-ed column by Mike Brandofino, President and COO of Caregility, was originally published in the Sunday, May 3, 2020, print edition of the Asbury Park Press.

We were sure that telehealth and virtual care eventually would become permanent fixtures in U.S. health care. We never envisioned a global pandemic would bring us here in less than a month.

Right now, health care organizations across the country are using telehealth to engage and assess patients while stemming the spread of the coronavirus. Hospitals are turning to remote patient monitoring to limit direct exposure, reduce the need for scarce personal protective equipment supplies and keep health care workers safe. Virtual care is one of the few levers available to practices and clinicians trying to maintain some semblance of care delivery during the COVID-19 response.

Early in the crisis, our clinical team explained to me what would transpire over the coming weeks. It was hard to believe. But they were right. Nurses and doctors would work round-the-clock shifts. Dwindling supplies and high risks of exposure would threaten the effectiveness and safety of the system.

Hospitals no longer can wait weeks or months to have telehealth solutions installed. They need cameras and virtual access in whatever form they can get them—on rolling carts, mounted to walls or through web-equipped devices—as quickly as possible.

Already, telehealth call volumes have skyrocketed as clinicians try to keep up. We’ve seen hospitals go live on a Monday and perform more than 7,500 remote patient video visits daily in their first week of using telehealth. We’ve also seen scenarios play out that have struck a deep emotional chord. In some heartbreaking cases, telehealth has been the only link between dying patients and their loved ones. Other scenarios offer a silver lining, such as connecting parents with their babies in neonatal intensive care units and allowing isolated patients to comfort hospitalized family members amid visitation restrictions.

Ultimately, this crisis has made virtual care a fixture of health care forever. Just like after 9/11 when New Yorkers turned to virtual collaboration to carry on, U.S. and global health systems will come to rely on telehealth. This crisis has accelerated legislative efforts to broaden uses and reimbursements for telehealth services, as seen with the CARES Act. We have seen validation of telehealth under the most extreme tests. It’s fair to say that health care never will be the same.

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Already, consumers are getting used to digital doctor visits as the new normal. Hospitals and clinics are planning expanded use as they brace for the threat of a potential COVID-19 resurgence. For the months ahead, social distancing measures will hold, only waning with time. With that will come a need for broader behavioral telehealth solutions as we face the emotional and psychological impact on citizens as well as exhausted health care workers.

As we lay out tentative plans to rekindle our economy, telehealth will play a vital role in back-to-work and back-to-school health screenings. Demand for remote guidance from clinicians will rise as at-home diagnostic and antibody testing for COVID-19 enters the consumer market. Telehealth may well be the proverbial bridge back to the “home visit,” as technology platforms and an array of connected devices become permanent fixtures in our homes as well as health care offices.

What happens next? Almost certainly, it will be a domino effect changing standards and regulations for reimbursement, patient data, privacy, security and more. More important than ever will be the effective application of technology to make better use of suddenly limited resources. Our health system will be in economic recovery. As a result, an even greater onus is on those of us within the health care technology community to support patient care with innovations that help care givers do more with less.

What lessons have we learned? What can we do to be better prepared for the next epidemic? What immediate needs do we need to focus on next? Let’s start by offering our gratitude to our health care providers—and listening to their guidance about how to reshape the system. We owe these caregivers, and their patients, support and attention as we look for new ways to improve care delivery during COVID-19 and beyond.

 

 

View the original piece authored by Brandofino and published by the Asbury Park Press here:

How COVID-19 is changing everything in healthcare