Telehealth, supply chain monitoring key areas of investment during pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped shed light on the longer-term structural reforms needed in the U.S. healthcare system, which include telehealth investment and medical supply chain tracking and coordination improvements.
These were among the results of a report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which offers answers and recommendations related to coordinated response to future pandemics, protection of frontline healthcare workers and improved EHR interoperability.
Among the other recommendations was a call to make electronic medical records interoperable, more accessible, and searchable by public health personnel to aid in state and federal situational awareness and emergency management.
The study recommended that pilot projects to explore the feasibility of improved EHR interoperability should be considered, and called for a "new normal" incorporating telehealth technologies into the healthcare ecosystem.
Under the assumption that the pandemic would limit outpatient clinic visits in many parts of the country, the Center called for an "immediate" ramping up of telehealth capabilities, noting the use of telemedicine would likely continue to increase.
A substantial, long-term investment in telemedicine would have additional benefits, but the report also cautioned healthcare facilities to "carefully scrutinize" what may or may not be suitable for a telemedicine visit, and treat such visits with parity so as not to disincentivize the use of telemedicine.
"Many routine healthcare needs, such as dermatology visits, primary care visits, and post-op visits, were found to be amenable to this technology without any detriment to patient care," the report noted. "Even simple electronic chart review consultations of in-patients have been found to be beneficial in some contexts."
The report recommended the Department of Health and Human Services work in collaboration with professional societies to provide guidance and best practices for telemedicine and telehealth.
The study said in regard to PPE, the federal government should create a centralized information-sharing system so that, in a declared emergency, states and healthcare facilities work collaboratively in sourcing PPE and other scarce medical supplies.
The report also noted a much greater level of tracking and coordination of the medical supply chain is needed across all medical products, which could require the formation of a new governing body with broader powers.
"The COVID pandemic has clearly demonstrated the need for more robust healthcare preparedness and some fundamental changes in US health policy," the report concluded.
"These recommendations will cost billions of dollars, but they may also provide day-to-day benefits in the quality of patient care and will certainly cost less than the trillions now being spent because our public health and healthcare system was not prepared or equipped for this pandemic."