The Pandemic's Silver Lining
By Howard Rosen, CEO
Last year at this time in our 2020 healthcare outlook, the pandemic wasn’t in the picture, even though the first human cases of COVID-19 had already been reported by officials in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019. One month later, the World Health Organization declared a disease outbreak. Then on March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
The floodgates opened. Everything — the global spread of the virus, the stark effects and implications — moved in quick succession. There was a staggering race between mitigation and the rate of transmission. That is when and where technology needed to, and did, step in.
As rapid as the spread of the virus came the adoption of telehealth solutions globally as a response to the pandemic. That was what may be considered a silver lining, or more to the point, a digital lining, in a very challenging time: on a business basis and, more importantly, for business to consumer. This new focus helped healthcare leap ahead to provide patients with ways to better access care anywhere, anytime, on any device.
The mainstreaming of telehealth and related digital solutions opened up access to care while the country was on stringent lockdown. It became not just tech strategy but healthcare in the main for patient care during the pandemic, helping to keep both patients and providers safe and facilitating efficiency in health system workflows and state-level responses to COVID-19.
In 2020 the challenges of the pandemic became an opportunity for innovative technologies to prove the value of their respective solutions on a population-wide basis in a care delivery model that addresses both today’s and tomorrow’s concerns, with or without a public health emergency. That said, not everything was successful nor was it all embraced by all of the public or all providers (a great example being the attempts and failure at digital contact-tracing), and there remain many issues. But the barn door has been opened, and it won’t be closed. Going forward, I think we are finally at a stage where “digital health” will finally no longer be regarded as separate from, but will be known as part of health.
Although there are hopeful signs with the vaccines and care options, there is still much work to be done. 2020 is finally over, but not COVID-19. It is still here raging and threatening with new strains even as the vaccine for the initial strain of COVID-19 is being rolled out, albeit rather slowly and somewhat haphazardly.
A simple question, from two points of view:
Until now, the answer would be NO.
From thought leaders at LifeWIRE, the innovative patient engagement technology that proved its value as a direct line in communicating care during the pandemic, here are some echoes from The Year That Was and about what will be for 2021.
Virtual Care From Resolutions to Resolve
By Adam Darkins, Chief Strategy Officer
New years are typically about change. But, this year, the typical pattern of making incremental resolutions has been dwarfed by responding to how monumental challenges from 2020 will play out in 2021 and beyond. Over these last nine months, telehealth services have been like rescue vessels — saving many brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities from a perfect storm of COVID-19-related lockdowns, social distancing, and staffing disruptions.
Evangelists of what’s variously been termed telemedicine, telehealth, eHealth, mHealth, and virtual care see this as the sunrise after a long-awaited dawn. For others who’d already downed the Kool-Aid and were focused on reimbursement, practitioner buy-in, state licensure, and other practical impediments to telemedicine, their issues are currently front and center. New converts from congressional and state staff, health policy makers, and front-line providers are fired up: They were stirred up by the COVID-19 turbulence, and they want new virtual care services to persist after the turbulence calms as vaccination programs succeed. Rafts of stakeholders will undoubtedly ensure that current virtual care services continue — and even further erode in-person care delivery, when appropriate.
However, there are greater opportunities still, arising from unique patient empowerment solutions like LifeWIRE’s, now that the sleeping tiger of patient preference for virtual care has awakened.
As telework is altering attitudes toward traditional office-working, telehealth is changing patients’ appetite for returning to devastated hospitals and clinics to get care they can receive virtually. How this desire translates into future wants, demands, and needs for care is likely to be the greatest stimulus of change to come.
Technology-Assisted Mental Health Support in Primary Care
By Major General Elder Granger, M.D., US Army (retired)
Chief Medical Officer
As the rise in mental health issues during the pandemic spills over to 2021, there will be an acceleration of the integration of mental health into primary care. As much as mental health is an important piece in the COVID-19 care settings, so will it be a touchpoint in care coordination across the continuum.
This integration as a care coordination strategy will expand patient data that can help improve treatment decisions and health outcomes. As this data is shared on a wider scale, insights and analytics will be valuable to population health management.
A mental health piece interwoven into health delivery models means access to efficient care and a holistic approach across all phases of care. Mental health care’s interoperability with primary care especially impacts the most vulnerable patients — those with chronic conditions.
According to the World Health Organization, “integrating mental health into primary care enables the largest number of people to access services, at an affordable cost, and in a way that minimizes stigma and discrimination.” That is value-based care right there. And the shift to it from fee-for-service will be accelerated this year as providers turn to technology that enables it.
Telehealth was vital in healthcare delivery in 2020. It provided access to care while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. It will continue to play that part and, moreover, will aid the seamless integration of mental health care into primary care delivery. Such integration, as the WHO cited, ensures that the population has access to much-needed mental health care, as it “increases the likelihood of positive outcomes, for both mental and physical health problems.”
An innovative technology such as a patient engagement platform will rise to this occasion rapidly in 2021, as it has done already by adding a mental health symptom module to a COVID-19 self-isolation and quarantine management program. A patient engagement platform provided support for COVID-related stress to infected and at-risk individuals being remotely managed. Because this platform directly engages patients, mental health symptoms can be kept in check and peer support can be enabled.
The use of this type of innovative technology for mental health support has already proved its value as a stand-alone approach in providing care for PTSD patients as a vital part of after-care plans for veterans and service members. Responses to the pandemic have accelerated strategies and facilitated mergers of health solutions and technologies. And a mental health component in primary care assisted by technology will be a trend to watch in 2021.
Digital Public Health: Health is Public, So Are Solutions
By Leslie Kelly Hall, Vice President Health System Integration
The pandemic has taught all of us that health is, in fact, public. Unless all of us can operate with a baseline of health, none of us can. At minimum, recovery from COVID-19 has to address 660,000,000 vaccinations in 150,000 locations, a vaccine 5-hour shelf life, refrigeration needs, and more … a supply chain equal to that of D-Day. With efforts by many, including heroic vaccine developers, government agencies, state agencies, and health systems, we still have much to do.
The confusion surrounding Where? When? How? Will it work? and countless other questions are overwhelming health systems and public health right now. But we can’t let one single vaccine dose be wasted. This is not a problem for health systems, pharmacies, military, state governments, and service organizations to battle independently. It’s a problem that requires a bold system where each and all must work together. But bold doesn’t mean complicated.
A solution could be as simple as an individual text — XTRAVAX to 12345 — that launches a digital interaction through which a person first identifies if they are a provider or an individual. An individual is asked a series of questions that identifies things like their zip code and the amount of time they may need to arrive to a certain site to receive a vaccine. A provider answers a series of questions that determines their location and provider details. The XTRAVAX platform registers the individuals’ and the providers’ information. Then, when a provider has extra vaccine doses, the provider knows how to initiate a text to all individuals within their area with the details needed for expedited vaccination delivery.
Let’s not waste any more doses or time. We can do this.