Improving Patient Care by Applying Lessons Learned from a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and its social distancing requirements have necessitated changes in the delivery of healthcare over the past 14 months.  As we begin to transition back to normalcy, policymakers and health system leaders are assessing the lessons learned during this period to determine what kind of short-term changes should become permanent healthcare reforms.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing this week dedicated to this topic, executives from two Healthcare Leadership Council member companies discussed steps that need to be taken to enable individuals to continue receiving quality care in their own homes.

Linda DeCherrie, M.D., clinical director of Mount Sinai at Home, a program developed by New York’s Mount Sinai health system, discussed the benefits found through an innovative care delivery model that provides treatment to patients in home settings.  According to Dr. DeCherrie, the Hospital at Home model reduced the average hospital stay from 5.5 days to 3.2 days while also cutting the percentage of patients who require readmissions nearly in half.

Dr. DeCherrie said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved waivers to allow healthcare providers to offer these services to Medicare beneficiaries, but that some health systems are reluctant to establish Hospital at Home programs unless they are assured those waivers will be made permanent or at least extended.

Similar regulatory action is needed to strengthen telehealth access, according to Narayana Murali, M.D., executive vice president of care delivery and chief strategy officer for Marshfield Clinic Health System in Wisconsin.  She told senators that telehealth has increased access to care for vulnerable communities. Marshfield, she said, performed 240,000 telehealth encounters in 2020 compared to 12,500 in 2019.

Dr. Murali said, though, that access to telehealth services remains limited by existing regulatory barriers determining where telehealth can be offered.  She also said telehealth won’t reach its full potential until greater investments are made in broadband access.

I want to give credit to the Senate Finance Committee for scheduling this hearing.  We can’t undo the tragic devastation created by COVID-19, but we can utilize the lessons learned from the pandemic to provide better healthcare to the American people.