The top priority of all governments and healthcare organizations has to be addressing the current crisis and how to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 through global policy efforts. However, with governments and those in the private sector quickly implementing changes for different healthcare organizations and granting flexibilities to providers to deliver care in novel and innovative ways, the healthcare sector should also think about the opportunities that these changes offer and how they could be sustained post the current crisis. Some of the adjustments made will only be appropriate for treatment and research purposes during this crisis, but there will be many potential options for leveraging pandemic-related care practices in future-facing policy structures.
HIMSS—as a global thought leader which supports governments, along with the private sector and other healthcare stakeholders—recommends the following strategies in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies that can further transform our global healthcare system.
Governments, businesses, and civil society leaders and elected officials are called 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 this Global Policy Call to Action.
The global healthcare community has been proactive in implementing new processes and protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to continue to best equip the community in responding to this crisis and future public health emergencies, we must maintain a care delivery environment that can quickly adapt and evolve based upon lessons learned.
This added flexibility will help catalyze innovation across the care delivery environment, thus improving our capabilities. This can be enhanced by recognizing our continued push toward value in healthcare. Focusing on innovation and value will lead to a greater infusion of innovative technologies into the care delivery environment, which needs to be embraced, including virtual services like telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
The ability to securely share and use health data is imperative in the fight against infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 and it is also vital to enhanced care management. HIMSS stresses the importance of leveraging open data or cross-sector health data sharing platforms to collect and use needed data across sectors, including laboratory information management systems, EHR data, emergency department encounters, emergency medical services data and public health surveillance data from public health and commercial laboratories during public health emergencies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for interoperability of systems for healthcare providers who need comprehensive data in order to make informed decisions about appropriate treatment for patients. The pandemic has also catalyzed creative solutions for policymakers who must now work with the healthcare community to create laws, regulations, and guidance that expand and improve care delivery options, address social determinants of health, public health research and epidemiological investigation, and that better address the needs of patients, especially for vulnerable populations.
With the expansion of the use of technology and typical safeguards loosened, as well as more personal, individually identifiable data being available to combat COVID-19, widespread concerns about privacy and security are mounting.
The privacy and security of an individual’s healthcare data remains a major concern while there is a need to strike a balance that allows for proper response to the crisis. HIMSS leadership joined with a number of international leaders in calling on governments to mitigate cyberattacks that target the healthcare sector. The healthcare community, led by the government, must make it a priority to provide cybersecurity education to all in the sector by discussing new and existing threats and mitigation efforts in a manner that must be understandable to people at all levels of the healthcare community.
Robust data privacy and security controls must be developed that are resilient and rigorously safeguard personally identifiable information, or PII, while being flexible enough to support current the needs of the public health community. In a public health crisis, it is essential to realize actual and potential primary and secondary uses of data. As such, it is important to ensure that the necessary privacy and security controls are used to safeguard the data throughout its lifecycle.
Disease surveillance is foundational to public health response to pandemics. The use of timely, evidence-based information supports informed public health and safety policy decisions. Thus, the global healthcare community is encouraged to prioritize disease surveillance and data analytics in order to quickly respond to COVID-19 and future public health crises.
Health authorities at all levels and across public and private healthcare systems must work together to modernize coordinated disease surveillance and data analytics. As a first approach, governments and non-governmental organizations alike are urged to support a global examination of the obstacles to a modernized system. This research should help countries and localities alike determine where does surveillance information transfer fail? What are the reasons for that failure? Then we have identified tasks that drive toward solving the issues, thereby ending up closer to the goal of enhanced capacity to collect and analyze data. This is quintessential to help enable reopening of economies and society at large.
“At the same time that we confront the current crisis, we must plan for the future by putting in place tools to enhance our ability to conduct effective surveillance, containment, and case management… There is no time to lose,” noted the authors of a report by the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. The authors included two former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioners, Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, and Scott Gottlieb, MD; and Farzad Mostashari, MD, MSc, former national coordinator for health information technology at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Heath organizations are urged to prioritize syndromic surveillance, which looks at health data such as spikes in COVID-19 related symptoms as well as admission, discharge, and transfer, or ADT, notifications from medical facilities.
Fundamental to conquering COVID-19 and future health threats is to push toward an improved public health infrastructure including the expansion of modernized public health surveillance, consideration of social determinants of health, and use of mobile and digital solutions that support public health contact tracing efforts. Moreover, COVID-19 is pressing health systems and health authorities closer to formulating new definitions and policies that include not only traditional forms of in-person healthcare, but also virtual health interactions.
Charles Alessi, MD, chief clinical officer with HIMSS, recommends that by using technology and data, healthcare can more effectively plan for a second wave of the pandemic and beyond. He encouraged that a proper discussion about the role that data can play is needed, and that it will be essential to incorporate digital modalities in the care of non-communicable disease.