By SCOTT WEINGARTEN, MD
COVID-19 exposed our country’s lack of centralized coordination when it comes to managing and preventing disease spread. Today, our public health system relies on flawed data and obsolete technology that fails to accurately track current and suspected cases, risk stratify patients, monitor disease progression or predict future spread. Not only do these blind spots create opportunities for the disease to spread, they also undermine the ability to safely plan for economic recovery.
What may surprise some, though, is the fact that we don’t have to start from scratch in order to build an effective system that stems the spread of COVID-19. In large part, the infrastructure we need is already here.
In 2009, Congress passed the HITECH Act, which allocated roughly $30 billion for providers to purchase electronic health records (EHRs). As a result of this stimulus, EHRs went from relative obscurity to ubiquity, and today about 96 percent of all providers are users of EHRs. Five years later, Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA), which requires healthcare providers to consult with an approved Clinical Decision Support Mechanism (CDSM) in order to receive reimbursement for advanced imaging procedures for Medicare beneficiaries.
The net result of these two laws is that there is now visibility into nearly every patient-provider interaction in the United States at the moment that care is delivered, through more than a dozen CDSMs that have been certified by CMS. Although PAMA was intended for use with imaging, it’s not difficult to add on and repurpose decision support apps to conduct symptom surveillance for COVID, enabling healthcare workers to spot cases more reliably and earlier in the disease progression for prompt action.
The advantages of such an approach are manifold. First, symptom surveillance at the initial point of care is a vastly more viable strategy