For years, industry leaders have been calling for a higher level of collaboration among the provider and vendor communities, as well as government agencies. The thinking was simple: by pooling the knowledge and resources of key stakeholders, solutions can be developed to help improve care quality and increase efficiency.
However, despite the myriad benefits, efforts to band together often fell short, for one reason or another — until Covid-19 came along. Or, more accurately, until the formation of the Covid-19 Healthcare Coalition, a private-sector led group of vendors, health systems, nonprofits and others focused on “coordinating our collective expertise, capabilities, and data and insights” to provide data-driven, real-time information.
It’s a tall order, even though the list includes industry giants such as Epic and Cerner, tech titans Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and influential leaders in pharmacy, consulting, and academia. But in its few short months of existence, the Coalition has created a decision support dashboard and resource library that provides valuable guidance for those in positions of authority, according to John Halamka, MD, President of Mayo Clinic Platform. Halamka, who serves as co-chair along with Jay Schnitzer, MD, Chief Medical and Technology Officer at MITRE, spoke about the coalition’s efforts — and provided an update on policy issues around the pandemic — during a recent webinar sponsored by Information Builders.
“These are some tough problems,” he noted. “The only way we can solve them is by working together and sharing the burden. No one organization or sector can do it alone.”
It’s also not a set of problems that be tackled all at once, according to Halamka. During the discussion, he identified the key areas of focus for the coalition, what researchers are learning in terms of prevention and treatment, and what leaders can expect in the coming months.
- The 5 phases of response. One of many ways in which Covid-19 is unique is that the response includes five components: isolation, testing/contact tracing, vaccination (which won’t be “widely available” until the first or second quarter of 2021), the post-vaccination period, and the new normal, which “is going to be so wildly different than what we’re used to,” he added.
- Supply and demand. One of the most controversial topics since the onset of the pandemic has been the availability and distribution of protective equipment and ventilators, which unfortunately resulted in faulty materials being used. To that end, the coalition has developed objective testing standards to determine the efficacy of products such as masks, and helped connect PPE suppliers with healthcare organizations. “We also provided guidelines for who should use what, in what setting,” noted Halamka.
- Virtual visits go viral. If there’s a silver lining that comes from Covid-19, it’s the fact that “telemedicine ubiquity happened overnight,” he said. Therefore, one of the coalition’s top priorities was to establish a set of best practices for technology, policy, and record keeping, covering everything from patients who are mostly likely to respond positively, to the regulatory waivers on licensures and reimbursements. “We want to aggregate best practices, but we also want to aggregate protocols to determine what constitutes an office visit versus a virtual visit,” Halamka said. “We’ve come up with different care plans and care protocols for different disease states, across different organizations throughout the country.”
- Data, Data, Everywhere. There’s no shortage of data, that’s for sure. The question comes in how to aggregate data from thousands of acute care facilities and outpatient sites to enable providers to ascertain which interventions might be effective for specific patients — without getting into squabbles about who owns the data. The answer – utilizing queries that CIOs can run “to define numerators, denominators and data extracts that you can run in your local site,” he said, pointing out that Mayo Clinic serves as an Institutional Review Board for a variety of Covid data sets. “We call it ‘federated research’ because it doesn’t depend on a giant national infrastructure. It has actually worked really well.”
- The power of plasma. Early research has found convalescent plasma to be an effective form of treatment, with the idea being that an individual who has recovered from Covid can donate either plasma or whole blood to treat someone who is battling the disease. This is significant, particularly since a vaccine won’t likely be available for quite some time, noted Halamka. “As we gather data, we will openly publish it.”
- Social considerations. A key function of the dashboard, according to Halamka, is in leveraging analytics to learn how factors such as race, ethnicity, age, and education level affect an individual’s likelihood of seeking treatment and recovering from Covid-19.
- The “tricky business” of contact tracing. Much has been said and written about contact tracing, from the ethical considerations to the reliability of statistics gleaned from using GPS or questionnaires to ascertain whether an individual may have been exposed. One possibility being explored is Bluetooth proximity, which uses a system of “chirps” to signal whether an individual has been within a few feet of a potential carrier — a method that protects privacy while safeguarding against the spread of disease, said Halamka. And there’s more to come; Apple and Google are working on an open-source initiative utilizing the “notification network” concept, and Amazon is developing a wearable.
To witness this level of collaboration among competitors has been nothing short of remarkable, said Halamka. “It’s critical that as a country, we gather data, protect privacy, and use that data to make informed decisions. That’s the reason all of these groups have come together. All of these things are essential in getting to a new normal.”
To view the archive of this webinar — HIT Policy Update: Covid-19 Recovery Edition (Sponsored by Information Builders) — please click here.