The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an uninvited, but necessary, stress test on the U.S. health care system, and hospitals in particular. It has further revealed long-standing problems with fragmentation, uneven access, a fragile supply chain, misaligned payment models and health care disparities.
Yet in other ways, the pandemic has provided the impetus for swift, much-needed innovation in a slow-to-change industry. Health care has been on the precipice of a digital revolution for too long — one we’ve been promising to patients for more than a decade — and COVID-19 has pushed us to make it happen. Amid these difficult circumstances, the COVID-19 crisis has shown us that we in the health care sector have both the power and responsibility to transform health care from within, and on a time frame that is relevant to patients.
An example is telehealth. As the pandemic delayed nonemergency care for millions of people, physicians and other providers turned to telemedicine. Long considered the future of health care, telehealth has quickly become the “silver lining” of the pandemic, allowing people to receive care that was sometimes lifesaving during a time of physical distancing.
At Mayo Clinic, we went from about 200 televisits a week prior to COVID-19 to a peak of 35,000 televisits a week during the previous height of the pandemic. This was possible not only because we had already built the necessary infrastructure, but also because the government fast-tracked application processes and funding for remote services. And when we were required to expand virtual care, we found that — for most encounters — our patients were equally satisfied with their virtual visits as they were with seeing us face-to-face. In fact, virtual visits measurably enhanced care during follow-up, in-person visits.
It’s now up to us to design a system where people can seamlessly move among various care models to get exactly the right care at the right time — delivering satisfying patient experiences and better outcomes at lower costs for both individual patients and the nation as a whole.
But like a stiff rubber band, once stretched, health care will reflexively snap back unless we intervene. When it comes to health care, we have to remind ourselves that the past was not a perfect place to which we should return. Instead, it behooves us to use disciplined, deliberate measures to maintain important gains in virtual care while continuing to evolve care for the future.
The pandemic also has demonstrated that solving big problems requires teamwork, not competition. Very early in the COVID-19 crisis, disruption to the supply chain, transportation and hospitality sectors made it evident that the best chances of success against COVID-19 would be for organizations to work together. In the face of a zero-sum game, we were able to organize medical resources and personal protective equipment to ensure support for the cities with the greatest immediate needs. We also joined forced with all levels of government and the private sector to fast-track research studies and share treatment and medical expertise .
One large collaborative effort is the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, a multi-sector response to the pandemic involving dozens of global technology companies, nonprofits, academia, labs and startups that agree to share resources and plans to fight the pandemic. The coalition brings together cross-sector expertise, assets and insights to help increase COVID-19 testing capacity for the country, accelerate vaccine development and coordinate treatment research.
One of the coalition’s projects is a national convalescent plasma donor recruitment campaign — The Fight Is In Us. Together with the Mayo-led expanded access program for convalescent plasma that has provided plasma to 50,000 COVID-19 patients, the campaign connects COVID-19 survivors with licensed blood and plasma centers to make donations within two months of their recoveries — when antibodies are at the highest levels. Several clinical trials are underway to determine if this antibody-rich donated plasma can help others fight the virus.
An example of care-model collaboration is the hospital-at-home program. Although not new, this model has emerged more robustly during the pandemic. Earlier this month, we announced a partnership with the technology company Medically Home to launch at-home advanced care. With this program, patients with conditions previously managed in a hospital will have the option to receive compassionate, high-quality virtual and in-person care at home. The program uses digital technology, artificial intelligence and collaborative networks of paramedics, nurses and others to coordinate functions from skilled nursing and lab testing to laundry service and nutritious meals. This requires health care to shift from a product-based approach to platforms — in this case the Mayo Clinic Platform, our first-in-kind integrated health care digital platform that will orchestrate these collaborative functions.
While designed to meet patients’ needs in new ways, we can use the “virtual hospital” model to open up resources to respond to COVID-19 and other rapidly emerging scenarios. Of course, this new model won’t completely replace hospitals — a system of only virtual and digital health care options is neither realistic nor desired. Rather, our responsibility is to develop and balance different models, orchestrating them seamlessly to meet individual needs.
Moving forward, the health care sector must fully embrace platform and digital technologies along with cross-sector partnerships as our new set point, while actively resisting the urge to “get back to normal.” With that firmly in mind, let’s build on our progress to create a health care experience that is more data-driven, equitable, accessible and supportive for the patients who need us.
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Mayo Clinic CEO: We Mustn’t Go Back to Business as Usual After the Pandemic originally appeared on usnews.com