By Ranya Habash MD
“Think about how many times in your life you’ve experienced something for the first time—we learned this [virus] was novel, and there aren’t many things in life that are novel,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent of CNN.
Dr. Gupta is right: COVID-19 is novel, and I don’t mean in its deadliness (though that is certainly true as well). The virus is novel for the way it has catalyzed developments in the healthcare industry. The speed at which we in the medical community have been able to adopt new technology shows exactly how a public health emergency can cut red tape and allow innovation to thrive.
But we need to keep the innovations coming, and the red tape minimal, if we have any hope of getting ahead of this pandemic, preparing for future public health threats, and evolving medicine further.
At a recent gathering of health experts convened by Everbridge—a leader in emergency management technology —experts from CNN, the CDC, Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, and Houston Medical underscored these points.
“Telemedicine is the clear winner of COVID-19,” states Roberta Schwartz, Chief Innovation Officer of Houston Methodist Hospital. She estimates that maybe 5% of physician visits were available via telemedicine pre-COVID; when COVID-19 hit, that number went up to 80%. Houston Methodist has also rolled out a virtual ICU, using cameras and monitors to safely oversee patients, capture real-time physiological data, and use predict analytic tools to identify and anticipate risk factors.
This innovation is stunning, especially when both doctor and patient have bought into it and trust it. Without COVID-19, adoption would have come much slower.
Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente experienced firsthand how COVID-19 pushed through a different type of service. The medical giants launched a program called Advanced Care at Home, “the Uber of hospital care”—bringing high-tech diagnostics, continuous monitoring, telemedicine, medical services, and healthcare personnel directly to patients’ homes, decreasing both cost and potential for hospital-borne infections while increasing patient comfort and allowing for greater capacity within the hospital. It’s a winning combination for all.
Perhaps the most important innovation that we need right now is the rapid development of a vaccine.
At her panel, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, spoke about Operation Warp Speed and the importance of the public-private partnership to develop a vaccine by removing barriers and red tape while maintaining safety precautions.
Technological innovations have enabled us to continue patient care and erect protections for public health. But we need more of this, desperately. In his session at the Everbridge Symposium, Dr. Anthony Fauci described the novel coronavirus as his “worst nightmare,” a scenario that had kept him up at night. “After 102 years since the pandemic of 1918, this is really the worst that we have seen with regard to pandemics. It’s truly historic in its impact already—and it isn’t over yet.”
This is why we must do all we can to prepare now. We must implement the digital and remote infrastructures needed and start leveraging them in this new age of healthcare. We must support the researchers, technologists, and scientists who are leading the charge. And we must behave responsibly as citizens to protect our fellow citizens.
Dr. Fauci is correct on many levels, and let’s make him right on another level: let’s make COVID-19 historic for how it pushes emergency preparedness and the practice of medicine forward. Public-private partnerships are one of the keys to elevating awareness and use of technologies like contact tracing and ambulance-to-hospital notifications in support of more rapid and effective patient care can help reduce infection rates.
Ranya Habash MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Everbridge.