Community Health Centers are on the front lines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) response and are rapidly preparing for the worst-case scenario. Already NACHC held a beyond capacity webinar for more than 1000 attendees which is available online here and reveals how health centers in the earliest hit areas responded. Health centers report they are tracking the daily updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. They are also preparing to respond to a surge in cases, but there are some serious challenges.
First, many localities are struggling with the availability of equipment and testing. We are also hearing reports of misleading information about the availability and cost of testing. Hackers have been identified using COVID-19 to spread malware and false information on the internet and by text. This week security watchdogs discovered that there is a fake COVID-19 mapping website that installs malware on devices that attributes it to Johns Hopkins University. A link to the Hopkins COVID-19 mapping resource is located here.
Another challenge for health centers is that, in some cases, electronic health records (EHRs) cannot keep pace with the dynamic and urgent need to respond to COVID-19. There are no federal requirements for health information technology systems to support disaster response, although there are requirements for health centers to have disaster plans in place. NACHC has already reached out to health centers to understand what the gaps are between their EHR capabilities and their moment to moment needs in caring for patients who may have COVID-19 or exposure to it.
NACHC is also working with the CDC on a health center-based approach to COVID-19 and other emerging threats that can be launched and integrated into the current health IT systems before the next public health disaster strikes. More timely and richer data can be critical in helping to direct resources and anticipate medical resource needs and staff shortages as the virus moves into a new phase, or as treatments become available. Health centers are pioneering ways to gather this data to support the current effort but look forward to the day when a standardized approach is already available as part of their emergency response protocols.
NACHC worked with Congressional leaders on the funding package signed last week to guarantee a commitment of $100 million for protective equipment, facilities, and supplies to protect patients and health care workers on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis. NACHC is also urging for an expedited process to distribute the funds and needed supplies immediately to health centers. A strong network across health centers and their partners with up-to-date data and technology can help us stay ahead of the curve on equipment shortages and local capacity challenges as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
The integration of telemedicine, or virtual visits, into the screening and treatment of patients who may be exposed to or affected by COVID-19, can have a big impact on the ongoing spread of the virus. In 2017, the last time data was available, nearly half of health centers (44%) already offered some kind of telehealth services and many are expanding or introducing virtual visits via videoconferencing or by phone/online messaging.
Health centers are also taking creative steps, like bringing medications out to the curb for patients for pick up instead of having patients come into the clinic. Many health centers are also reaching to advise patients that before they come to the clinic they should call to see if their conditions or concerns can be managed remotely or require additional precautions to protect staff and patients. Health centers are also referring patients to mobile testing laboratories as the testing component of the response ramps up. In locations where testing is still not available or recommended, health centers are leading patients through recommendations for self-quarantine and escalation to a higher level of care.
A future data and supply chain infrastructure for health centers is a key component to rapidly understanding, monitoring and responding to COVID-19 and the next emerging threat. NACHC will continue to work with supply chain organizations and vendors, health IT developers, and the federal, state and local public health agencies to disseminate information and develop solutions to this crisis. Reach out to us at email@example.com for assistance or to be part of the solution!
What you can do:
- Rely on information from public health experts only. There is a lot of misinformation about the novel coronavirus. Only follow credible sources of information
- Practice standard public health protection methods to prevent transmission.
- Review the webinar Prepare Not Panic: COVID-19- CDC Update and the Health Center Response.
- Communicate with us. Let us know what you’re experiencing in the field and feel free to send us your concerns/questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Stand up, stand together. Use your voice to advocate for Community Health Center Funding.