The federal government sent out a request for information on data analysis and public-private partnerships that will better prepare the healthcare industry for emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
HHS is inquiring how healthcare organizations have used data to quantify the impact of crises like COVID-19 on access, timeliness and quality as well as how they've established public-private partnerships. Comments are due by July 8.
"This has reinforced the need to plan as a collective so we can truly be prepared to respond together," said Nicolette Louissaint, executive director of Healthcare Ready, a disaster-response not-for-profit. "When you think about most emergency preparedness plans, they are normally organization-specific. The biggest takeaway of this time is almost nothing has been done by a single organization acting alone."
HHS is asking about data sources, the barriers to fortifying the resilience of the healthcare delivery system, how organizations measure their resilience, what policies and programs can mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and what scientific advances are needed to address healthcare's vulnerabilities, among other questions.
The most successful partnerships amid the pandemic have emphasized equality among collaborators, facilitating an open dialogue on both the process and the intended outcomes, Louissaint said. That requires a sense of trust, built by a respect of confidential and sensitive information. That information, Louissaint added, needs to be analyzed in a consistent way and securely stored.
Hospitals have been working closely with county and state departments of health as well as clinical laboratories to track the virus and allocate resources. Distributors, manufacturers and providers have worked with each other to better understand supply chain capacity and sourcing.
The U.S. scored a 6.7 on the 10-point scale of the 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-backed measure that analyzes the prevalence of hazard planning in nursing homes, the number of paramedics and medical volunteers, the degree of community engagement, and the level of information management, among other metrics. That's a 3.1% boost over the year prior, and a 11.7% increase since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the index in 2013. But at the current pace, it will take a decade to reach a strong health security level of at least 9.
The majority of emergency physicians said they weren't fully prepared for surge capacity during a disaster, noting a lack of real-time data, according to a mid-2018 poll from the American College of Emergency Physicians.
But planning is only one step, Louissaint said. Funding needs to follow.
"One of the frustrating parts about this is that so many plans are focused on one type of disaster, often leaving pandemic planning insufficient. But it's not just planning," she said. "Investments have to be as sufficient as the planning efforts."