Urgent measures to save lives at all costs have been the default response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This public health crisis introduces unprecedented and complex challenges to our health system’s collective capacity to respond.
More than two months into the country’s outbreak, it looks now that the urgent and large-scale responses have worked against an envisaged doomsday scenario. "What’s next?" is the question that remains.
There is certainly no going back to normal if “normal” means that this, or any, public health crisis will leave the vulnerable unable to access timely care. Neither will it be normal to put frontline or support healthcare workers at risk nor to neglect patients with major acute/chronic health conditions during a public health emergency.
Welcome to the new normal: a health system equipped with immediately deployable and scalable solutions, solutions that are applicable and valuable for self‐triage, ongoing self-assessment, and care coordination — amid a pandemic or not.
The new normal means enabling a payor or health system, beyond self-triage, to manage symptoms or to intervene when independent of an office visit or a nurse call center. Committing to a working solution for “normal times" that is also deployable in an outbreak situation is smart health care.
Managing care remotely
Remote care management will continue to be indispensable, as it already is now in the fight against COVID-19. Telehealth, or telemedicine, is a natural-born solution for medication management, mental health services, and chronic care while patients stay home during shelter-in-place and other physical-distancing mandates and choices.
In a pandemic-stricken hospital setting, health workers are among the vulnerable population that need protection and care. Telehealth-assisted clinicians can provide care for patients in a way that also protects them.
For these reasons, the expansion of telehealth to manage care remotely is being supported by the $2 trillion stimulus package, among other public health efforts, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (“CARES Act”).
"Almost 1,400 health centers are getting federal funding from the CARES Act to improve their resources — including bolstering telehealth and mHealth [mobile health] services," according to an April 8, 2020, mHealth Intelligence report.
Moving forward securely
Normalizing self-triage, self-assessment, and care coordination requires a secure communication platform. A public health crisis is no excuse to neglect data privacy and security, not even when the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights relaxed enforcement of telehealth guidelines and issued certain HIPAA waivers, as seen during this COVID-19 crisis.
Because telehealth has proved its use for many kinds of health care during this pandemic, it will continue, even after the crisis, to be a key part of health management. Mitch Parker, CISO of Indiana University Health, believes that the challenge is to look for solutions that have a reasonable and appropriate degree of security and (for payors and providers) to have a very critical eye on what solutions will be allowed after this crisis passes.
A patient engagement platform, one that from the get-go is already HIPAA compliant, is ready to be deployed in a public health crisis. Whether the rules are relaxed or not is not an issue. Such a communications platform should address core HITRUST policies to maintain compliance and to ensure that the proper protection of infrastructure is used to store, process, and transmit ePHI.
This pandemic has driven an increase in automation and remote management, as seen in the dramatic and necessary uptick of telehealth. The value of digital health communication platforms, even when this pandemic passes, will pave the way for organizations to automate healthcare system processes for patient care from now on.
The new normal is a health system that is outbreak-ready, one with a digital strategy for patient care using a pandemic-battle-tested tech solution. #BeLifeWIREd