Three Silver Lining Take-Aways From The Coronavirus Pandemic
The world suddenly finds itself in a state of solidarity, even if not unity. The threads that bind us together are cords common to humanity, and are currently contaminated by infection, yet still resilient. We did not predict the incredible disruption we have seen with the novel #Coronavirus. We did not expect the sweeping changes to our lives and communities. Schools have closed; businesses have closed; flights have been canceled; events have been canceled; and uncertainty and fear have permeated nations. Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, daughters, and sons have been hospitalized in intensive care units or hospital hallways, and many have died. The extrapolation of the spread of the virus has surpassed all others before it.
No matter how dark the clouds have been in the gray sky, what little of it they could see, they have faced each day, and powered through the rain, hoping for brighter days.
COVID-19 has been in a class all by itself. It has threatened to take away our humanity. So many have flocked to the stores offline and online to stock up on every available roll of toilet tissue, hand sanitizer, or household cleaner. It appeared as if no one wanted to leave any for anybody else. In the midst of the pandemic COVID-19, it may have seemed as if on some level we had forgotten how to care about each other. Yet, almost uncountable numbers of healthcare professionals cared more than most will ever fathom. While schools, businesses, flights, events, and so on self-quarantined, hospitals did not. The sheroes and heroes of emergency medicine, hospital medicine, primary care, pulmonology, critical care, and so many other specialties in medicine carried the torch selflessly, so that one day when the pandemic would pass, freedom from COVID-19 would ring and reign. These men and women have fought hard, and sacrificed themselves and their own families. They have disrupted their own lives, to save others’ lives. No matter how dark the clouds have been in the gray sky, what little of it they could see, they have faced each day, and powered through the rain, hoping for brighter days.
For several decades, I have always remembered that “every cloud has a silver lining“. I would never wish #Coronavirus on anyone. It saddens me deeply that any die from this. Simultaneously, it gives me great hope for what extraordinary impact we can have on each other and on medicine and innovation, as we join together and work together to get through this as one global team. The silver lining of the #Coronavirus pandemic has many components. Below I focus on three categories. I suspect you will agree with me that these are among the biggest lessons that will sustain us far into the future.
Take-Away 1: We are more ready for #Telehealth and #Telework than we realized
Around the country, many institutions have canceled elective office visits, procedures, or surgeries. Numerous institutions have converted these elective visits to telemedicine or telehealth options. Clinics that before did not have a telemedicine component are developing their virtual practice as a result of #coronavirus. Groups that offered telemedicine prior to the pandemic have also expanded their services. In a supportive role to patient care and education, a myriad of national research and scientific sessions have canceled their physical gatherings and rapidly innovated to create virtual sessions. Businesses and organizations outside of healthcare have also established or expanded telework for employees who may never have expected to find themselves with that option. For some, remote work is a dream come true; for others it leads to more disruption. Each individual’s memories of the pandemic will be composed of a range of experiences, and among them will be their opportunity to continuously work at home, unless of course they are practicing healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals have learned very quickly to develop novel methods of caring for others to support life, while embracing #SocialDistancing outside of the hospital in efforts to help #FlattenTheCurve.
All of these critical steps in this time of health crisis have enabled care and protection of patients, as well as health professionals...
Individual and institutional efforts at developing or expanding Telehealth services have been supported by rapid implementation of timely legislation created and passed due to the pandemic. Medicare has established a Telemedicine waiver for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. New coding and billing strategies have been employed to allow for virtual visits for individuals who do or do not have COVID-19, to be billed as if they were in-person visits. These strategies have been applied to both new and established patients receiving virtual care in health care facilities or at home, with no requirement for use only with established patients and no requirements to enforce deductions or co-pays. Mobile computer devices with social communication applications such as FaceTime and Skype are being formally allowed as acceptable remote health care technology without penalties from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). All of these critical steps in this time of health crisis have enabled care and protection of patients, as well as health professionals, and concurrently propel us into the future of Telehealth and remote monitoring while practicing social distancing.
Take-Away 2: #SocialDistancing is #SocialNetworking
Social distancing does not need to equate to isolation. Social distancing refers to limitation on physical distance, and does not preclude social networking at a distance or online. In the wake of coronavirus, so much buzz and activity focused on the pandemic have been noted on social media streams. Individuals are reaching out online for information gathering or seeking, information giving or sharing, support, answers, education, advocacy, and community. The incredible conversations that are occurring on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more to build social distancing support and healthcare management protocols are testament to the resiliency and camaraderie of the human race and our global health profession.
Take-Away 3: We are still stronger together
The social connections during the pandemic likely have been greatest at home. Families have been encouraged to tap into activities and experiences that they could do together, and that we know they could never get back. These have been times of individual families playing card games or board games inside, reading or listening to music individually or together, cooking and cleaning, playing or working in the yard outside, taking walks or hikes or car drives together, or checking on each other with individual or group virtual chats.
The disruptions caused by the surgence of #Coronavirus have opened up tremendous opportunity for #DisruptiveInnovation. Innovation can facilitate connectivity and connectedness during #SocialDistancing, in part via Telehealth or Telemedicine and Social Media. There have been excellent timely articles regarding the fantastic utility of telemedicine, digital health, and other forms of innovation in the wake of the #CoronaVirus crisis. Let us all avail ourselves of the wisdom we can gain from each other. Let us also make good use of the additional legislation announced during the pandemic allowing physicians to care for patients across state lines. Amidst all the elbow bumps, even 6 feet away, we can virtually leap forward together in innovative patient care, research, education, and local, national, and international community engagement.