An action plan published Tuesday by researchers at Johns Hopkins University offers wide-ranging solutions for both the private healthcare sector and the federal government in response to the shortcomings that have come to light in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The COVID pandemic has clearly demonstrated the need for more robust healthcare preparedness and some fundamental changes in U.S. health policy," the report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said.
The report offers solutions for a wide array of challenges that have come with the pandemic such as supply of personal protective equipment, postponed procedures that must now be addressed and sustaining the healthcare workforce for the long-term.
Among the solutions offered in the report are investments in reusable face masks, augmented hospital staffing levels going forward and the federal government establishing a crisis fund to hospitals on the brink of closure.
The solutions in the report will cost billions of dollars, but Dr. Amesh Adalja, an author of the report and senior scholar of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the costs of such preparedness efforts aren't nearly as high as how much the pandemic is currently costing the healthcare industry.
"You look at the upfront costs, they are basically dwarfed by what is happening now," he said. "Because the healthcare industry wasn't prepared (for the pandemic), the costs are going to be much much higher."
Several groups have attempted to predict the cost of the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, a new report from the American Hospital Association estimates the financial impact of COVID-19 just to hospitals and health systems from March through June may be $200 billion.
Adalja said the topics selected for the report were based on what he and his co-authors concluded were the most pressing challenges that have come to light in the pandemic.
Other highlights of the report are recommendations to continue telemedicine use long-term. Physician practices and health systems quickly scaled up telemedicine services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was encouraged by the CMS through higher reimbursement.
The report argues healthcare payers should pay for telemedicine "on par with in-person visits" going forward.
"You want the incentives to continue to be favorable for telemedicine" or patients will go back to being seen for in-person visits unnecessarily, Adalja said.