Several major impacts can be anticipated during a severe outbreak that could affect the operations of healthcare facilities. These include surges in patients seeking care, the potential for workforce absenteeism from personal or family illness, and effects from social distancing measures such as school closures. Healthcare facilities will likely need to adjust the way they triage, assess and care for patients using methods that do not rely on face-to-face care.
Shifting practices to triaging and assessing ill patients (including those affected by COVID-19 and patients with other conditions) remotely using nurse advice lines, provider “visits” by telephone, text monitoring system, video conference, or other telehealth and telemedicine methods can reduce exposure of ill persons with staff and minimize surge on facilities. Many clinics and medical offices already use these methods to triage and manage patients after hours and as part of usual practices. Recent reports suggest that approximately 80% of COVID-19 patients (of all ages) have experienced mild illness[i]. Managing persons at home who are ill with mild disease can reduce the strain on healthcare systems—however, these patients will need careful triage and monitoring.
Promoting the increased use of telehealth
- Healthcare facilities can increase the use of telephone management and other remote methods of triaging, assessing and caring for all patients to decrease the volume of persons seeking care in facilities.
- If a formal “telehealth” system is not available, healthcare providers can still communicate with patients by telephone (instead of visits), reducing the number of those who seek face-to-face care.
- Health plans, healthcare systems and insurers/payors should message beneficiaries to promote the availability of covered telehealth, telemedicine, or nurse advice line services