While policies are quickly enacted to allow for a flexible healthcare environment that can deliver the care needed during the pandemic, the healthcare sector must also think about the opportunities that these changes offer and how they can be sustained beyond our current crisis.
Recognizing this, governments, businesses, civil society leaders and elected officials are being asked to recognize the important role and value of health information and technology during a health emergency and to work across government agencies and with communities and businesses to prioritize actions that leverage sound health data, the tools of informatics and the innovative solutions outlined in the HIMSS Global Policy Call to Action.
The first strategic action of our call to action report describes the necessity of a flexible healthcare environment. A rigid structure halts opportunity for adaptation, a circumstance made evident by the COVID-19 pandemic. With flexibility, healthcare facilities can adapt to the situation at hand and efficiently prepare for future impediments. Moreover, promoting flexibility can introduce various innovations that improve patient care. Public policy is the most appropriate medium to introduce these changes to the healthcare industry. The following examples are indicative of where flexibility in healthcare information and technology policies and practices have enabled systems to quickly respond to complex care delivery needs.
Soon after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services removed HIPAA restrictions against telehealth services, prompting the use of video conferencing platforms to facilitate physician-patient communications. The governor of Rhode Island built upon this action by mandating that telehealth services would be reimbursed at rates no more than conventional in-person services. This, in turn, incentivized healthcare facilities, such as VICTA in Providence, Rhode Island, to implement telehealth services in their operations. Data collected from VICTA illustrated that, over time, utilizing telehealth ensured flexibility for both patients and physicians. Physicians were able to provide a greater offering of appointments, leading to a greater number of patients being able to commit to their scheduled appointments. VITCA patients also reported great satisfaction with their service, resulting in increased patient retention over the course of the pandemic. If you’d like to connect with the Rhode Island case study team to learn more, they can be contacted through victalife.com.
Similar policy evolutions occurred in the United Kingdom. Prior to the pandemic, stringent privacy regulations prevented telehealth options from existing in the marketplace. After the first cases of the coronavirus in England occurred in late January 2020, issues of in-person contact between physicians and patients quickly settled. Both the Department of Health and Social Care and England’s National Health Service recommended policy changes to address these problems. Largely enacted in March of that year, these modifications allowed telephone and video calls to replace some primary care responsibilities.
In the West Midlands, a county of England, tertiary pediatric referral centers applied these policy changes through virtual outpatient clinics, where traditional in-person outpatient services were replaced by telephone and video consultations. Despite early reservations from patients, over time telehealth became widely accepted. Furthermore, these implementations produce flexibility in services. Data collected over a three month period, illustrated how the non-attendance rate of 15% prior to the pandemic dropped to 2.5% during the pandemic, a clear indication of the policy’s efficacy.
HIMSS calls on government, businesses, civil society leaders and elected officials to recognize the important role and value of health information and technology during a health emergency and to work across industries to leverage sound health data, tools of informatics and innovative solutions outlined in our Global Policy Call to Action.