As news of the COVID-19 Coronavirus (“Coronavirus”) epidemic continues to dominate the attention of nations across the globe, attention is increasingly being placed on ways to mitigate community spread by pursuing tactics such as self-quarantine and isolation measures as well as distance-based interactions. These efforts are aimed at minimizing close encounters between infected people in order to control the spread of this highly-contagious pathogen.
The global pandemic is prompting drastic measures by worldwide governments to limit further social impacts and economic damages. Fortuitously, high-performing mobile health (mHealth) services are now available that provide a variety of options to healthcare caregivers. This is attractive to local, state, and federal agencies as they grapple with ways to continue to provide quality-based healthcare services in the face of possible intra-community travel restrictions and/or limitations.
High performing mobile networking solutions are well established in major population centers and most rural areas of the country, thanks to several decades-old federal initiatives from prior Administrations, recognizing the value in providing broadband services to under-served and/or disadvantaged communities. In combination with on-going infrastructure improvements in wireless communications and fiber (5G), and those in cloud computing and storage, healthcare reimbursement models are changing to encourage and promote health system investments in Remote Patient Monitoring, Virtual Health, Telehealth, and other such mHealth modalities. There are now many high-quality vendors of the latter, including solutions from sophisticated Electronic Health Record (EHR) companies, who provide highly-interoperable services that serve as a lynch-pin to connect patients with remote caregivers, clinical decision support systems, and other vital technologies. Equally important are the predictive analytics from burgeoning artificial intelligence (AI) systems that are able to detect, measure, and assess the effectiveness of treatments, the efficiency of control measures, and the quality of care pathways for the community on a population health basis.
“In these times, the importance of the convergence of mobile networking with mHealth is very relevant, demonstrating how healthcare operations can continue while preserving community guidelines and recommendations around isolation precautions. Towards this end, the Coronavirus epidemic provides an even greater opportunity to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of mobile networks – current and planned – to support healthcare transactions at scale with renewed emphasis.”
In these times, the importance of the convergence of mobile networking with mHealth is very relevant, demonstrating how healthcare operations can continue while preserving community guidelines and recommendations around isolation precautions. Towards this end, the Coronavirus epidemic provides an even greater opportunity to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of mobile networks – current and planned – to support healthcare transactions at scale with renewed emphasis. This imperative is also a fundamental opportunity to gauge opportunistic new business collaborations as well as a means to benchmark weaknesses in today’s delivery solutions. In terms of the latter, the epidemic serves as high impact, high value forcing function to motivate wireless operators to perhaps consider accelerating their approaches as it pertains to the roll-out of 5G services in major metropolitan areas and in underserved rural areas, with supplementation of service using private 4G LTE services. More specifically, Congressional funding that has been recently made available to address the epidemic could serve as a funding mechanism to subsidize accelerated investments in such infrastructure improvements. If the efficacy of evidenced-based models could be demonstrated to Congressional leaders, as has been convincingly shown via the numerous successful examples of remote monitoring of patients who have one or more chronic diseases such as diabetes and a co-morbidity such as congestive heart failure.
It is instructive to examine what an “Iron Triangle” approach is to promote what a real-time, distance-based care might resemble. At each respective apex of the triangle are the following: 1) mHealth service solution sets (including EHRs and analytics) from the vendor landscape, 2) Service providers and payors, including hospital systems and clinics, and finally 3) consumers, themselves. Connecting each apex together are the communications pathways provided by wireless operators.
In its application, such an Iron Triangle is able to scale at local, regional, and national levels in part because mHealth services for population health surveillance have been continually refined over the last decade thanks to stakeholder leadership efforts and achievements in technical interoperability between formerly disparate systems, as exemplified by the sharing of patient data across different healthcare networks. When coupled with an established consumer base familiar with modern broadband communication modalities such as telepresence (i.e., social media methods, portals, and others), and healthcare provider investments in digital health delivery services, wireless operators have a great opportunity to meet such demand without the traditional burdens of terrestrial-based communication systems that relatively require much more time to construct and implement.
As communities continue to grapple with the Coronavirus outbreak, consumers will increasingly look towards healthcare providers to provide front-line care services. Traditional models of care delivery may not be sized to meet the demand that may be placed on them, and the nightmare scenario of overflowing Emergency Department (ED) rooms is not conducive to containment directives nor is it realistic given the strain that such a situation would place on existing capacity limitations, both in terms of facility space and that of caregivers such as physicians. This is especially jarring when mHealth capabilities are already available to much more efficiently and pragmatically provide similar levels of triage as well as post-treatment monitoring. This leaves healthcare systems much better prepared for those cases where immediate interventions are needed (i.e., respiratory failure), thereby lessening the ‘storm’ of patients flooding ED and urgent care facilities, risking further community exposure.
While the above is somewhat idealized, the Coronavirus epidemic is a call to action for the community of healthcare stakeholder such as providers and vendors to collaborate together with mobile communications partners to develop highly-resilient healthcare pathways to demonstrate transformative care methods during a crisis such as this one.