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Data-driven pandemic response

States should immediately deploy a surge telehealth team to their operations centers to help hospitals and health care professionals manage the coronavirus pandemic, according to the COVID-19 Policy Alliance.

The alliance consists of a team of experts from medicine, hospitals, telehealth, logistics and cloud computing firms and was convened by MIT professors Simon Johnson and Retsef Levi to rapidly develop, vet and deliver policy proposals for use by U.S. state and federal governments.

The team’s paper outlines how states can quickly spin up telehealth capabilities. It covers how they can use telehealth to implement mass testing without spreading the infection, prevent hospitals from becoming infected, manage thousands of mild infections and avoid exceeding ICU capacity. 

Telehealth will be key to implementing mass testing without spreading the virus. A simple phone or video conference with trained call center staff can help individuals evaluate their symptoms, direct only likely cases to appropriate facilities for testing and take pressure off 911 and local government resources.

Hospitals can limit access to emergency rooms to only those with appointments (or non-COVID emergencies) and direct potentially infected people to dedicated testing sites to help protect the health of their staff members. Telehealth can also help manage those diagnosed with mild cases through their illness and provide additional support to high-risk populations.

To safely and effectively manage this complex mix of patient, facilities and health care staff will require a state-level data system that supports advanced analytics, visualization and reporting. Essential data includes information on the high-risk patients and sites, current cases based on testing, current hospital capacity and its utilization and detailed patient data.

The alliance has compiled much of this data and released a set of analytic tools to help states identify the highest-risk facilities so they can take targeted action to reduce stress on the overall public health care system. The researchers mapped high-risk senior living facilities in each state down to the ZIP code level and scored them based on the percentage of residents over 65 and the incidence of diabetes, hypertension and obesity. They also analyzed the number of beds and facility type and developed risk scores based on the safety record of nursing homes.

The proposed state platform would support three types of telehealth functionality: virtually connecting potential patients to health professionals for triage and clinical support, for consultations among physicians and medical staff and direct physician-to-patient care. 

It would also enable the analytics critical to manage epidemic response by giving officials flexibility to allocate scarce resources most effectively.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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