On Wednesday, June 17th, we hosted a webinar entitled, “Roundtable on Digital Health Solutions During COVID-19.” We were joined by four brilliant minds tackling different aspects of digital public health.
Josefina Jervis, President and COO of the MedicAlert Foundation, spoke about how non-profit membership organizations are modernizing their infrastructure to digitally share their members’ health data with first responders and healthcare providers, especially during the pandemic.
Patrick Dunn, Program Director at the Center for Health Technology & Innovation at the American Heart Association, opined how some of the largest healthcare nonprofits are helping to democratize access to digital health technology to help educate the masses and spread awareness of COVID-19.
Tyrell Morris, Executive Director of the Orleans Parish Communication District, revealed how 911 agencies are leveraging technology to respond to the pandemic despite staff and resource shortages, including hot spot identification and contact tracing.
Eugene Hsu, Adjunct Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine, offered a physician’s perspective on how digital health tools are used to treat COVID-19 patients, especially as many practices transitioned partially or fully to telehealth and remote patient monitoring due to the virus.
The lasting effects of pandemic protocols
“What data points you actually pay attention to, and what you have to ignore, is really important. How do we enable the data passed through from a pre-hospital setting to reach everyone downstream?” – Eugene Hsu
The COVID-19 pandemic has set the stage for new, digital-first approaches to public health. According to Executive Director Morris, at one point during the pandemic, over 60 percent of New Orleans’ EMS service were sick or in quarantine. In the early days of the pandemic, before the public was educated about when to call 911 about symptoms, call volumes reached historical spikes – in one weekend, there were more emergency calls in New York City than there were on 9/11.
Limited resources, scarce personal protective equipment, and regulations on social distancing forced healthcare providers and first responders to create new protocols to protect themselves and their communities. For many, that meant embracing data and digital health to overcome the challenge.
As the country sets to reopen, and it appears the worst has come to pass, many of these protocols are becoming part of the “new normal.” Telehealth, mHealth, and remote patient monitoring are just a few of the programs employed by healthcare providers around the country that are likely to remain beyond the crisis.
At the same time, Tyrell’s 911 agency used tools like RapidSOS and RAVE Smart 911 to access critical data about patients to determine how to prioritize calls, allocate scarce PPE, and whether first responders risked exposure to COVID-19. As a result, the very nature of the Orleans Parish 911 agency has fundamentally changed.
“911 centers are no longer ‘call centers.’ Only 20% of my floor space is dedicated to answering calls, the other 80 percent is intelligence operations.” – Tyrell Morris
The new digital public health system
Changes and adjustments made during COVID-19 are a part of a larger evolution in our nation’s healthcare and emergency response system. Josefina noted that the MedicAlert Foundation, which helps share its members critical health information like allergies, medications, conditions, and more with healthcare providers and first responders, experienced a surge in membership. It was clear that individuals were looking to protect themselves in any way they could, including sharing their personal information with first responders to receive faster and more personalized care.
The combined efforts of nonprofits like the American Heart Association and the MedicAlert Foundation, forward thinking physicians like Eugene Hsu, and first responders like Tyrell Morris and the Orleans Parish Communications District, are laying the foundations for a public health system that leverages the power of digital health to protect lives and solve problems.
However, there are still hurdles to overcome. As Eugene, Patrick, and Tyrell suggested, there is a data gap between our smart devices, digital health systems, first responders, and healthcare providers. In some cases, there is too little data to be operational, but in there’s so much it’s hard to cut through the noise.
To paraphrase Eugene, ensuring a consistent and reliable flow of data upstream and downstream from emergency responders and healthcare providers is critical to making the system work. However, through programs like Apple’s Medical ID, the Emergency Health Profile, and MedicAlert, the gap between consumers, healthcare, and first responders is closing.
Tune in to the webinar to learn more about how the public health system is applying the lessons learned from COVID-19 to solve some of digital health’s greatest challenges.