Accelerating Connectivity & Access to Care During COVID-19

Patient connected with a doctor reviewing prescriptions.
COMMENTARY
April 22, 2020
Vice President, Health Strategy and Innovation, CVS Health

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be one of the greatest challenges in our generation’s history both nationwide and across the globe. We have a unique opportunity to highlight how we can do our part to keep people as healthy and safe as possible during this health crisis.

In my role at CVS Health and as a physician in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic right now, I have witnessed the hardships of COVID-19 through several different lenses over the past few weeks. Whether it be caring for those infected, advocating for protective gear for our health care providers, adhering to social distancing or checking in on the vulnerable, this outbreak has tested the mettle of our society in many ways.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. The Spanish influenza pandemic, the first truly global pandemic from a century ago, ushered in several improvements in public health strategies, including education, social distancing and better sanitation, significantly enhanced our ability to curb influenza transmission. While there are currently incredible pressures on our health care system, the novel coronavirus is also catalyzing and accelerating long-term positive change.

We are starting to see a new world of accessible, collaborative and connected care that we may not otherwise have reached for years.

This is a small, but encouraging bright spot arising in the wake of this pandemic.

Take telehealth, for example. Several weeks ago, I met with health insurance Chief Medical Officers and congressional leadership, and we all agreed on the importance of promoting telehealth for patient care while mitigating the spread of the virus. It is amazing to think about the rapid growth virtual care has experienced in such a short amount of time. With many people practicing social distancing and unable to leave their homes, telehealth is emerging as a critical technology for triaging and accessing health care – expediting the virtual health trend that was already underway. In fact, telehealth visits have soared in the past few weeks alone, forcing the telemedicine sector to innovate quickly to keep-up with demand.

Telehealth is emerging as a critical technology for triaging and accessing health care.

Excitingly, last month the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries during the coronavirus outbreak. Aetna, a CVS Health company, has also waived co-pays for members for any covered telemedicine visits — regardless of diagnosis. This has led to patients who may not have previously considered using virtual visits now adopting the technology, and it may represent a tipping point for telehealth becoming a mainstay in the future of care delivery.

As broad access to diagnostics is critical to managing the pandemic, we are collaborating with federal and state officials to boost access to COVID-19 testing, including debuting drive-through rapid testing sites on April 6th for eligible individuals in three states. These facilities will provide testing results in real-time, thus empowering patients on actionable clinical insights that will improve health outcomes and reduce risk of viral spread to others.

As broad access to diagnostics is critical to managing the pandemic, we are collaborating with federal and state officials to boost access to COVID-19 testing.

There are changes occurring in care delivery on the frontlines, too. I have been incredibly proud to see the tremendous collaboration, adaptability and selfless support amongst medical professionals. Clinicians, including those whose specialties are on hold, are going beyond their usual roles by helping to manage those infected as well as providing mental health services during this challenging time. Retired providers and nurses, along with medical students nearing completion of their studies, have also jumped into the workforce to help assist with coronavirus care.

This heightened sense of teamwork and sharing of best practices across the entire health care ecosystem is what I hope will be our new normal in health care.

Clearly, the coronavirus crisis has been—and will continue to be for some time—an extremely difficult period for our nation and the world. But as we work together to address the outbreak and keep our patients, families and communities safe, we may be witnessing what health care can and should look like after the pandemic ends. If we can reflect on and learn from these experiences, we will come out of this with a stronger and more evolved health care system—one that is dedicated to and focused as never before on what patients need.

This content was originally published on LinkedIN.

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COMMENTARY
April 22, 2020
Vice President, Health Strategy and Innovation, CVS Health