doctors (lenetstan/Shutterstock.com)

Getting certified health workers to virus hotspots

Government agencies have altered many rules to help first responders in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services is now allowing medical professionals to practice across state lines.

As welcome as this change is for under-resourced health care facilities, one challenge is that receiving organizations must still verify that workers from out of state are who they say they are and that their professional credentials are valid. To expedite that process, a company is offering its unified verification platform for free to states, health care workers and others who need to confirm professional credentials.

Merit’s ReadyNow platform digitally connects medical licensing systems, enabling the rapid processing of license verification for responders and medical staff filing into areas hardest hit by the virus. After a state agency connects its medical licenses to Merit’s central repository, it can be up and running within 48 hours, Merit CEO Tomer Kagan said.

“Announcing policy is one thing, distributing it and enforcing it is another,” Jeff Colyer, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, told GCN in an email.  “We need to be sure that the person who says they’re a doctor has a valid medical license,” he said. “Digital credentials make that seamless.”

Processes for verifying credentials vary from state to state, but they’re almost always cumbersome and paper-based, he said.  “Sometimes this can take weeks, and even in emergencies it takes days, which is time we don’t have.”

With the ReadyNow platform, “hundreds of different organizations that are licensing medical professionals [can] push their information to the same place, and every single place that’s verifying” can access that information, Kagan said. It allows sharing the verification “onward in a programmatic fashion,” he said.

To get the platform up and running, Merit accepts license information from state agencies and medical and nursing boards through application programming interface  (API)  integrations, spreadsheets or File Transfer Protocol dumps and adds it to its repository. Through email, the company alerts license holders to the presence of their digital licenses on Merit’s platform and explains how to access them.

Verifying agencies can download an app or use the company’s website to check digital licenses. Merit has several verification tools including APIs that can be integrated into existing systems and standalone tools for scanning, emailing or texting a license.

Additionally, when licensing or certification rules or policies are changed, they get updated and distributed in ReadyNow.

For example, a state customer wanted to change licenses’ expiration date so that medical workers didn’t have to worry about renewals. That same day, Merit changed the date on all affected digital licenses and then notified all the connected systems that the licenses were no longer expiring.

“There’s no way today that HHS can say, ‘I want to message every medically licensed worker in the country,’” Kagan said. “The best they can hope for is to call every state, find some organization within that state’s nursing board or medical board” … and have them get the information out through email, he said.

Merit accelerated the release of ReadyNow to support coronavirus response, Kagan said. The company plans to roll out additional tools, such as the ability to use a URL or QR code to view and check qualifications using a smartphone camera, and a web-based component to automate qualifications and check-ins with limited in-person contact.

“The digital transformation of government that will take place over the next three months is more than what we’d expect over the next three years,” said Colyer, a doctor and former governor of Kansas. “We have an emergency and we need technology now. Specifically, we need a verification system that works well and works with all legacy systems. There is immense value in a real-time system that makes information easily accessible in one place instead of scattered and siloed across many states and federal agencies.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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