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The Extraordinary Pandemic Efforts You Didn’t See

March 19, 2021
7:57 am

America is well aware of the heroic work performed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by physicians, nurses and other front line healthcare professionals, tirelessly handling a rapidly escalating number of cases as the virus spread and hospitals were stretched to capacity and beyond.

But what we didn’t see was the vital work taking place behind the scenes to reconfigure healthcare data systems so that COVID-19 treatment guidelines could be rapidly disseminated, patient data could be made readily available, in-person exchanges could be shifted to telehealth, and more healthcare professionals could have access to critical data as they, too, were forced to work from home as America quarantined.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mayo Clinic Chief Information Officer Cris Ross described having to make decisions in days and weeks that would normally require months on how to make changes to the Clinic’s information technology systems in order to meet an unprecedented challenge.

He said, “We had to make close to 3,000 changes in our electronic health-records system to recognize rapidly evolving hospital-facility changes and protocols. Clinical guidelines for Covid treatment were developed and made available from within the records system. So, for example, if someone arrives at the emergency department who may have Covid, what are the steps? If that patient is admitted, what’s the next step? And if they’re sent to an ICU, what’s the next step?”

The rapid changes required of Mayo and other health systems when the pandemic struck underscores the importance of better preparing the nation for future health crises. Last year and into early 2021, the Healthcare Leadership Council worked with 100 different healthcare, employer and patient advocacy organizations to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations on how to strengthen private-public collaborations on disaster readiness and response. They include the creation of a 21st century public health data infrastructure that will enable real time access to critical information necessary to get ahead of a rapidly evolving crisis like COVID-19.

Many of the recommendations in this report were included in the recently-passed American Rescue Act, but much more work remains to be done before the next catastrophe strikes.

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