COVID-19 has exposed multiple deficiencies in U.S. medical systems and one of those shortfalls is in the quality and access to data. Data on reported cases, hospitalizations, and health system learnings during the virus has been far behind what we would have hoped for in the U.S.
Follow the Patient
Ms. Seema Verma, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is out to change that for the future. Ms. Verma was interviewed at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health virtual conference this summer, and she shared her vision to make healthcare more affordable and accessible, especially through data and its interoperability. “Imagine if you will, the people who were stranded on cruise ships early on in the pandemic. If they had had access to their medical records, it would have helped patients and their provider manage their conditions and make medical decisions.” Enabling better data access for patients can help them get the care they need when and where they need it.
She continued that data can also help to speed up research. In this era where computers learning through A.I. and rapid analysis of lots of data is feasible, it makes sense that improving data access will enable scientists to test and find cures with more frequency and better accuracy. Health systems will play a key role in achieving progress for care and research. If health systems can compile and manage seamless medical record data that is integrated, this will unlock the power of data to manage, support, and advance health. COVID-19 showed us that we have not paid enough attention to the infrastructure that ends up trapping information in electronic silos at hospitals and doctor’s offices.
Real-Time Data Impacts Now and the Future
Ms. Verma’s focus in her role is to look where we can bring interoperability to support situations like COVID-19 in identifying hot-spots and supply needs, but healthcare data can also bring light to the longer-term social determinants of health. This allows every aspect of the healthcare sector to shift their approach from merely treating sick people to supporting health and wellness in the communities within which they serve and do business.
The trend for telehealth that began to gain acceptance during COVID-19 is expected to continue to grow. It can provide communication and healthcare while keeping the patient and the providers safe, including in rural areas and underserved communities. Telehealth has also been a boon for the treatment of mental health. While it is not a panacea, telehealth can be a powerful tool for medicine and healthcare.
A silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis is the acceleration of long-needed breakthroughs in the healthcare industry; it is up to us as business leaders to seize the opportunity.