Healthcare Hot Takes is Luma Health’s monthly rundown of healthcare innovations and events happening right now. Check out what the industry is thinking, reading, doing.
As we all know, the healthcare news cycle — and virtually every news cycle — has been dominated by COVID-19 this past month. Amidst the spread of coronavirus, trying to stay on top of the news and the constant flurry of information can be overwhelming. We’ve compiled some of the most important COVID-related news from March in the hope that equipping people with relevant, accurate information will empower them to best protect the health of themselves, their loved ones, and the public as a whole. Here are some key updates everyone should know about coronavirus.
1. CMS is taking bold action to maximize the flexibility of the U.S. healthcare system.
This March 30 announcement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) explains how, at the direction of the Trump administration, CMS is loosening certain regulations on the healthcare system to help it quickly adapt to the threat of COVID-19. According to one CMS administrator, the regulatory waivers that CMS is issuing will “help the healthcare system deal with patient surges by giving it tools and support to create non-traditional care sites and staff them quickly.” In the past, hospitals were required to provide services within the four walls of their own buildings; now, however, patients can be transferred to outside facilities, allowing hospitals to increase their bed count. Another major decision is the waiving of certain hiring regulations, made in an effort to encourage hospitals to hire more healthcare providers and professionals during this difficult time. You can learn more about CMS’ new guidelines and waivers here, in this article from Becker’s Hospital Review.
2. Apple has released a new COVID-19 screening tool and resource center.
On March 27, Apple officially launched its new COVID-19 website and app, developed in partnership with the CDC and FEMA. The app contains an interactive screener (see below) that asks users questions about recent travel or exposure, potential symptoms, and risk factors then gives them customized CDC guidelines based on their answers. This is a great step towards keeping patients informed and safe — screening surveys such as this sample one are an important tool for triaging patients and ensuring that anyone who may have coronavirus is identified and treated appropriately. Plus, we applaud Apple for ensuring data privacy and security on the app, which does not require sign-in and does not send responses to Apple or any other organization.
3. Congress is waiving restrictions on telehealth.
The House and Senate have been hard at work passing bills that can provide a stimulus to the ailing U.S. economy. Their recent emergency spending packages have allocated billions of dollars to fighting coronavirus while helping Americans. What may have been lost in the noise is one important facet of the bill passed on March 5: Congress is lifting restrictions on telehealth to make it easier for Medicare patients to access telehealth services. Now, Medicare covers many telehealth and virtual care solutions, an important step to protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our population. In conjunction with the actions taken by CMS, we think that relaxing these regulations will ultimately help more Americans get to care quickly and seamlessly.
4. But now, telehealth is facing a sudden influx of demand.
In the past month, the amount of patients seeking to use telehealth virtual visits has been exceptionally high. While telehealth is an essential platform at a time when most in-person medical visits are being cancelled, long waiting times have become a frequent downside to its rapid adoption. Patients in their providers’ “virtual waiting rooms” often find themselves in the room for hours and hours, indicating that many providers are struggling to adapt to the high demand for telehealth. However, we’re confident that as more and more telehealth solutions become available, and as an increasing number of providers adopt these solutions, wait times will begin to decrease. Correspondingly, we’ve just announced our own brand-new telehealth solution, and we hope that as more companies follow suit, patients will no longer have to wait hours to see their provider virtually.
5. Abbott has developed a portable, 5-minute coronavirus test.
Medical device company Abbott recently announced that its groundbreaking COVID-19 test is ready for usage. The test uses a small box approximately the size of a toaster oven to analyze swabs and deliver a result in just five minutes — a true game-changer for healthcare facilities struggling to keep up with testing demand. The FDA has given Abbott the green light to begin distributing its test, and Abbott has set a goal of shipping 1 million tests per week. We’re grateful for Abbott’s quick work on this test and believe that this will make a real difference in our healthcare system’s capacity to test patients for COVID-19.
6. Insurers are beginning to cover costs for COVID-19 treatment.
National insurers Cigna and Humana declared on March 30th that they would waive cost-sharing for any COVID-related treatment patients received. In addition, Cigna is ramping up its telehealth services while also staffing a behavioral health hotline. This decision follows a previous announcement by insurance giant Aetna that they would not require patients to cover the cost of their treatment for coronavirus. We’re glad to see insurance companies put patients before profits in these difficult times and hope to see more and more of their peers follow their lead.
7. UCSF is studying a new tool that could enable early COVID-19 detection.
Oura is a Finnish startup with a “smart ring” that tracks users’ body temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate — and UCSF is hoping that this smart ring can help keep its healthcare workers safe. Workers, especially those with only mild symptoms, are at a high risk of passing the virus to others, which could have devastating effects. Currently, 2,000 UCSF health providers are using the smart ring to identify warning signs of infection so that they can get tested, seek treatment, and quarantine as necessary. Protecting the health of our medical professionals is of paramount importance, and this new smart ring (pictured below) is an important asset in working towards that goal.
8. The FDA is allowing COVID-19 survivors to donate their plasma.
Convalescent plasma, found in the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19, may help treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19. In the past, this treatment method has been effective for treating H1N1, MERS, SARS, and more — in theory, the plasma could transfer the recovered patient’s temporary immunity to the patient currently being treated. While still in its early stages of research, we give kudos to the FDA for giving this the green light and allowing the effectiveness of plasma to be evaluated.
Luma’s Take: It’s encouraging and heartening to see the drastic actions being taken from all spheres of the healthcare industry to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by any means necessary. From developing innovative new methods of testing to giving patients much-needed peace of mind, companies are each doing what they can to help. Ultimately, we think that these initiatives will combine to have a massive impact on flattening the curve of coronavirus.
For our part, we’re working to enable patient-provider communication at a time when it’s absolutely crucial. Luma Health is offering 90 no-cost days of telehealth virtual visits and SMS broadcast messaging services with the aim of reducing the burden on healthcare facilities while keeping patients connected with their providers. We’re proud to be part of an industry that is working around the clock to fight COVID-19, and we are grateful to every single person who’s been a part of that effort. Lastly, we want to remind everyone to stay indoors and to take social distancing guidelines seriously. All of our individual actions affect each other — and at the end of the day, we are all in this together.