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Tag Archives: Healthcare

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How manufacturers are keeping their employees safe

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The disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused has been felt across the world of manufacturing. Manufacturers have been some of those companies on the front lines to lead the country through recovery and renewal. While the service industry has come to a halt in some cases, manufacturers have had to keep operations up and running.

Unlike many industries that quickly pivoted to remote work, factories cannot function with a fully remote workforce. At the same time, they must ensure the safety of the employees on the job. Manufacturers have put in place some of the stringent social distancing and safety rules for employees to follow.

Some, like the Big Three automakers, have decided to ignore relaxed CDC rules and have remained vigilant. They are not taking any chances when it comes to the health and safety of their employees. Most are strictly following the guidelines set by OSHA.

Ford has launched a massive health safety campaign, which includes a COVID-19 contract with employees. It states their commitment to safe practices that will protect all against the spread of COVID-19. Ford employees and their families must agree to a list of items to keep themselves safe at home or outside.

While automakers enforced strict coronavirus precautions as they resumed production, their showrooms’ rules were less stringent. Now they are offering dealerships guidance to exceed local orders and follow the same stringent protocols that they use in their manufacturing facilities.

Solutions from U.K.-based company Pathfindr are going a long way to help manufacturing companies maintain their safety norms. Its sensors use Bluetooth and GPS to track components during the manufacturing process.

The company started with a prototype of motion-sensitive jewelry to help employees maintain social distancing rules. The object would zap a wearer if they reached for their face. Pathfindr’s engineers then came up with the winning solution: the “Safe Distancing Assistant.” The gadget warns users when others come too close to their six-foot social distancing space.

It uses technologies like Bluetooth and ultra-wideband radio, which work to keep employees separated and safe in six-feet-apart enclosed spaces. The tool has received positive feedback from the big manufacturing firms looking to get back to 100% operational capacity. Experts say that this innovative technology can even be used in massive public places like theme parks to help ensure social distancing and keep families close together.

While a third of employees may work from home, companies still need in-person workers and have to make sure that they have adequate PPE, like face masks, ear coverings, face mask extenders, and shields. There is now an increased focus on digitization processes so that remote management is more efficient.

The manufacturing industry needs over 1.7 billion facial coverings per month, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). According to the White House Supply Chain Task Force, this demand for PPE may continue through 2023.

Thus, manufacturers need all the help they can get, and NAM is working with the federal government to give them that. They are acting as a go-between to help manufacturers get protective gear like the millions of masks and gloves for America’s workforce. Manufacturers are urged to add capacity by investing in new production lines or retooling existing ones.

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The rise of employee assistance programs during COVID-19

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Originally designed to address the negative effects of alcohol abuse on productivity and organizational performance, employee assistance programs (EAPs) have evolved immensely since their inception. Today, EAPs are structured to manage a wide range of complex issues surrounding employee mental health.

Though employers have been ramping up their EAP initiatives for some time now, it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that’s catapulting this workplace benefit to greater heights.

COVID-19 and Employee Mental Health

A 2020 report by Ginger shows that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic employees were already experiencing high levels of stress. But, “Once the pandemic hit, employees were feeling more stressed than ever before in their careers.” Per the report, COVID-19 is causing employees more stress than both the Great Recession and 9/11.

Ginger’s survey also found that because of the pandemic, employees are “missing full days of work due to stress, they’re missing meetings, struggling to collaborate with colleagues, and are less productive.” Further, “Since COVID-19, absenteeism can be measured not in days per year, but by hours per day, with nearly two-thirds of employees missing an hour or more of work every day.”

In May 2020, Time magazine wrote that “mental distress among Americans has tripled during the pandemic compared to 2018.” And, multiple reports say that the COVID-19 outbreak has triggered an uptick in domestic violence.

How EAPs Can Help

EAPs are employer-sponsored programs that help employees cope with issues that can adversely impact their productivity and the organization’s performance. These issues may stem from alcohol and substance abuse; marital/family/relationship turmoil; medical, financial, and legal issues; and mental health problems.

Though EAPs come in various forms, their core services generally include short-term counseling, treatment referrals, employee assessments, organizational assessments, manager consultations, and employee education/training. Some EAPs provide financial, retirement, legal, family, child, and elder assistance; and some offer intervention for critical incidents — such as death, accidents, and natural disasters.

In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, EAPs can help employees (and their family members) deal with:

  • Isolation
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Grief
  • Insomnia
  • Financial issues
  • Family conflict
  • Housing and child-care concerns
  • Workplace adjustments, such as telecommuting

Depending on the service, EAP communications can take place in person, by phone, or via internet and mobile applications. To encourage social distancing during COVID-19, most EAPs are delivering care through digital and remote mediums, such as video, phone, and live chat.

EAP services are free for employees and their family members. The employer absorbs the cost. Normally, EAPs cost employers between $12 and $40 per employee annually, according to a 2017 report by the Employee Assistance Society of North America. Studies show an ROI of $3-10 for every $1 that employers invest in an EAP.

The services are generally confidential, meaning EAP providers cannot disclose communications between themselves and the employee or the employee’s family member. However, in certain situations, EAP providers (like any other licensed health professional) must report to the proper authorities, such as when the client threatens to commit a serious crime or poses a danger to themself.

EAP Usage in the Age of COVID-19

As evidenced by SHRM’s 2019 employee benefits study, a majority of employers (91% of those surveyed) were already offering EAP services prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite most employers offering an EAP, the services have a track record of being underutilized by employees — typically because employees not aware of the program, don’t know how to access the benefits, worry about confidentiality, or are concerned about mental health stigmas.

Therefore, in the COVID-19 era, the focus is on making sure employees know about the EAP services available to them, encouraging them to participate in the program as needed, and alleviating their fears about stigmas and confidentiality.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, 57.1% of employers are ramping up communication about their EAP offerings, per a survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity. Additionally, 25.4% of employers are expanding their EAP program to include up to one year of bereavement counseling, among other things.

Industries such as construction and maintenance, hospitality and accommodations, arts, food service, and entertainment and recreation have consistently ranked among those with the highest risk for workplace problems. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, companies in these high-risk industries are increasingly turning to EAPs.

For example, an article published by EHS Today states that amidst the pandemic, construction employers are addressing common mental health problems in their industry — such as suicide and the potential for addiction — by encouraging the use of EAPs.

Employees, as well, are understanding the importance of utilizing their employer’s mental health benefits during COVID-19. According to Ginger’s 2020 report, “There’s a notable increase in employees who are taking advantage of [employer-sponsored] mental health benefits since COVID-19, whereas from 2019 to 2020 before COVID, there was little change.”

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Podcast: Finding fulfillment and a fully booked schedule in a cash-based practice

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During PT school, Valerie Schwalbe discovered she had a passion for pelvic physical therapy. So, right after graduation, she started a pelvic health program in an outpatient orthopedic clinic and ran it for two years. Over time, she realized her dream of a standalone, dedicated pelvic health clinic where patients could be completely comfortable wasn’t really possible within the insurance-based business model.

Two years ago, she finally opened her own private-pay pelvic health practice. Incredibly, her new clinic was 75% booked within just three months! Despite all the craziness of 2020, Schwalbe’s practice continues to grow, and she utilized my Automated Hiring system to hire her first physical therapist as well as admin support.

In this interview, she shares the story of how she got started, what worked and what didn’t, and details on pricing, HR, marketing, and office space rental (and pitfalls to look out for).

More specifically, we discuss these topics related to her pelvic health practice:

  • How she knew the cash-based model was the option that would allow her to create the practice of her dreams.
  • Which information and resources she found most helpful for managing the risks as she prepared for launch.
  • How she was able to overcome her fears and uncertainty to gain the confidence she needed to make the jump.
  • The specific strategies she used to manage the transition from employee to business owner — which happened much faster than she’d imagined.
  • An answer to the dreaded “do you take my insurance?” question that actually fosters strong relationships.
  • How she made telehealth work in her highly sensitive niche during the quarantine and how she’s planning to leverage this capability long-term.
  • What Valerie learned from some recent HR challenges that will make it easier to hire and onboard new employees.
  • How she structured compensation and scheduling for her staff PT, plus plans for the future.
  • Word-of-mouth marketing approaches that help keep the practice booked weeks or months in advance.
  • The troubling events during construction on her office space and why that led to her opting for an in-office admin instead of a virtual assistant.
  • What you should consider when negotiating for office space in order to minimize unexpected expenses and protect yourself during the term of the lease.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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How pharmacists can help stem insomnia — a growing public health issue

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Sleeping well not only boosts one’s mood and ability to pay attention, it supports the body’s immune functioning and ability to fight infections. So it’s ironic that now when people most need the benefits of a good night’s sleep, an increased number are finding it elusive. In fact, insomnia has surged to such a degree since the pandemic started, that doctors have coined the phrase “COVID-somnia” to describe it.

The following stats illustrate the phenomenon.

One study showed a 37% increase in the rates of clinical insomnia at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic as compared to prior for a sample of over 5,600 adults living in China.

By March 15, prescriptions filled for sleep disorders had already increased by 14.8% compared with the same month-long period in 2019, according to an article in NeurologyToday that got its numbers from a report from the pharmacy benefits manager, Express Scripts.

The magnitude and ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic makes some sleep experts worry that sleep disorders could reach levels approaching a public health crisis in its own right.

The increase in sleep disorders may outlast the pandemic

Medical practitioners speak to the severity of the problem.

“The proportion of our patients who have complaints of insomnia and hypersomnia has increased dramatically since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Alon Avidan, M.D., professor of neurology at UCLA and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, in NeurologyToday.

Dr. Rachel Marie Salas, associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, continues by outlining what is triggering the interrupted sleep patterns all her patients are experiencing. Among the reasons are fears about getting the virus, concerns about loved ones, not being able to go to work and a lack of social contact.

“Some of them now meet the diagnostic criteria for chronic insomnia: not being able to fall asleep within 30 minutes more than three times a week for more than three months,” Dr. Salas said in the article. “They get into bed, the brain kicks in, they start worrying if they’re going to lose their job, if their family member is going to survive, and they literally cannot fall asleep.”

Direct links between COVID-19 and sleep may even exist.

“This is not well set science at this point,” said Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., chief science offer and chief executive officer of NeuroTrials Research of Atlanta, in an article in Physician’s Weekly. “But there is some emerging information that even though Covid-19 may be predominantly a respiratory illness, it is possible that it also affects the brain and then affects sleep.

Unfortunately, individuals who develop sleep disturbances during COVID-19 may be at greater risk for long-term adverse outcomes, explain Canadian researchers in Sleep Medicine. They fear that insomnia and nightmares may persist well after the pandemic and note that such problems are often precursors of psychiatric disorders.

“The high rates of acute insomnia associated with this pandemic, and the evidence that acute insomnia often turns into chronic insomnia, calls for concerted public health interventions notes Julie Carrier, a psychology professor at the University of Montreal and the scientific director of Sleep On It, a national campaign in Canada.

Alternative behavioral therapies or pharma solutions

In light of growing numbers of patients suffering sleep disturbances, the Pharmaceutical Journal recently published an in-depth article on management strategies to help pharmacists better counsel these people.

Their knowledge and experience with both pharmaceutical and alternative therapies uniquely position pharmacists to help mitigate the insomnia crisis. United with other frontline medical professionals, they can address the issue individually and on a community education level.

Currently there’s a culture shift away from hypnotics and towards cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as a first-line intervention, note the article authors. They describe the following five evidence-based, non-pharmacological therapies in detail to help pharmacists develop a greater awareness of treatment alternatives.

  1. Sleep education and hygiene
  2. Stimulus control
  3. Psychoeducation and relaxation strategies
  4. Sleep scheduling
  5. Cognitive therapy

“By providing CBT-I advice as a first-line treatment option, pharmacists may negate the need for a hypnotic prescription, reduce drug spend, prevent side effects from medicines and potentially improve treatment outcomes.”

Armed with this knowledge, they can team with prescribing doctors to help reduce the unnecessary use of hypnotics.

Neurologists also concede in the aforementioned article that for many in their profession, the quickest response to complaints of insomnia may be writing a prescription for zolpidem or one of the benzodiazepines. The downside is that these medicines are inappropriate when a patient’s condition has become chronic, as is the case with many COVID-somnia sufferers.

Recent findings justify the effort on the part of healthcare providers to find alternatives.

“In the long-term, they affect your sleep quality and your cognition,” said Mark Boulos, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Toronto. “They also reduce slow-wave sleep.”

Yet it’s when patients still suffer significant distress and daytime symptoms after trying CBT-I and improved sleep habits, hygiene and other therapies that the pharmacist may consider discussing pharmacological treatment with the patient’s prescriber.

The value pharmacists provide by helping people navigate the options to find the way to a better night’s sleep that works for them personally can’t be overemphasized — especially in times like these.

In the words of Charles M. Morin, professor in the psychology department at Laval University, “Sleeping well enhances our psychological and physical resilience and allows us to better manage stress, anxiety and uncertainty in a crisis situation like the one we are currently experiencing.”

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Survey: ‘Long haulers’ report lingering, numerous symptoms after COVID-19 infection

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list the symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Researchers have found that 96% of patients have had a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, and about 45% had all three of these symptoms. The duration of symptoms depends on the severity of the disease. People with milder cases tend to get better on their own in 10 to 14 days.

However, about 75% of a group of patients who received care for COVID-19 at the Southmead Hospital in the northern suburbs of Bristol, England, were still suffering ongoing symptoms three months later. Although patients reported improvements in initial symptoms such as fever, cough, and sense of smell, many still had quality of life issues, and they struggled to carry out daily tasks such as washing, dressing, and going back to work.

The results of a recent survey symptom list conducted by researchers affiliated with Survivor Corps, a not-for-profit, grassroots movement educating and mobilizing COVID-19 survivors and connecting them with the medical, scientific, and academic research community to help stem the tide of this pandemic and assist in the national recovery, suggest that brain, whole body, eye, and skin symptoms are also frequent-occurring health problems for people recovering from COVID-19.

Symptoms, often debilitating, may linger for weeks or months after an initial diagnosis of COVID-19 and include everything from joint pain and fevers to hair loss and double vision. In fact, these victims of the virus have self-nicknamed themselves the “long haulers” and report nearly 100 different symptoms.

A reported 26.5% of symptoms that long haulers experience are described as painful. Unfortunately, the Survivor Corps group members have reported that their primary care doctors are unable or unwilling to help manage these lesser known and painful symptoms due to lack of research.

A recent Dutch study looked at about 1,600 people, average age 53 years, who reported coronavirus symptoms. About 91% of the patients were not hospitalized, indicating that the majority of the surveyed patients were mildly symptomatic. Of these patients, about 88% reported persistent intense fatigue, while almost 3 out of 4 had continued shortness of breath. Other continuing symptoms included chest pressure (45%), headache and muscle ache (40% and 36%, respectively), elevated pulse (30%), and dizziness (29%). Interestingly, 85% of the surveyed patients considered themselves healthy before contracting COVID-19. Only 6% of patients considered themselves healthy one or more months after getting the disease.

A study from researchers in Italy found that 56% of 402 adults who survived COVID-19 experienced at least one mental health condition a month after hospital treatment. It is unclear whether COVID-19 changes the brain, making people with it more likely to develop mental health conditions, or whether the conditions occur indirectly from being ill.

Although long haulers may fall into the high-risk category, there’s also a growing percentage of people who were otherwise healthy before they became infected. According to experts, whether someone with the coronavirus will experience long-lasting symptoms appears to be random.

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US payrolls add 1.4 million jobs; unemployment rate drops to 8.4%

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Employers added 1.4 million nonfarm new hires in August, down from the creation of 1.8 million jobs in July, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. August’s rate of unemployment fell to 8.4% from July’s 10.2%. Driving such improvements were economic reopening and Census 2020 hiring.

The number of unemployed workers dropped to 13.6 million in August versus 16.3 million in July. Most major worker groups saw their unemployment rates decline. “Both measures have declined for 4 consecutive months but are higher than in February,” according to the BLS, “by 4.9 percentage points and 7.8 million, respectively.”

The number of unemployed workers on temporary layoff dropped to 6.2 million in August compared with July’s 9.2 million, according to the BLS. August’s total of permanent job losers rose 534,000 to 3.4 million, up 2.1 million since February.

Wage income climbed last month. “In August, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 11 cents to $29.47,” according to the BLS. “Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 18 cents to $24.81, following a decrease of 10 cents in the prior month.”

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls inched up by 0.1 of an hour to 34.6 in August versus July.

Big employers with 500 workers or more hired 298,000 employees in August, more than double July’s 129,000, according to ADP/Moody’s monthly employment report for nonfarm private-sector payrolls only. Midsize firms of 50-499 workers hired 79,000 employees in August after shedding 25,000 jobs in July. Small firms of 1-49 workers hired 52,000 employees in August after creating 63,000 jobs in July.

The service sector gained 389,000 new jobs in August versus 66,000 in July. Goods-making firms added 40,000 workers in August, up sharply from 1,000 new hires in July. Franchise businesses hired 21,500 new workers, a small bump up versus July’s 21,200.

On Aug. 27, the Federal Open Market Committee OK’d updates to its long-run monetary policy. The FOMC now stresses that maximum job creation is a “broad-based and inclusive goal” to be “informed by its assessments of the shortfalls of employment from its maximum level” versus past “deviations from its maximum level,” according to a statement. In sum, the FOMC is boosting its emphasis on increasing employment.

The policy change arrives amid COVID-19-related job losses. “The economy is always evolving, and the FOMC’s strategy for achieving its goals must adapt to meet the new challenges that arise,” said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell.

The change in central bank policy can offset the blow to consumer demand from the GOP-run Senate letting the across-the-board $600 hike in weekly unemployment insurance benefits end at the close of July. Meanwhile, an estimated 12 million workers and family members have lost their employer-paid health insurance from the COVID-19 pandemic since February, according to Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and director of policy with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

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New York Fed brief: COVID-19 pummels Black-owned businesses

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic closed 22% of small businesses across the U.S. between February and April, according to a brief from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (NY Fed). Near double that number, or 41% of black-owned businesses, closed versus closure rates of Latinx (32%), Asian (26%) and white business owners (17%).

Business location matters. Black-owned firms are geographically concentrated in COVID-19 hotspots, according to the NY Fed, where white-owned firms are less likely to be.

The implications of doing business in a COVID-19 hotspot are harsh. “There is a positive relationship between COVID incidence and the share of a county’s businesses that are Black-owned,” according to the NY Fed, “an indication that areas with higher concentrations of Black businesses are more likely to be facing larger direct (longer forced closures, COVID-19 symptoms) and indirect (social distancing, fewer customers) effects of the pandemic.”

The NY Fed brief plotted white business activity and COVID-19 incidences. Their findings reveal that areas with higher numbers of white-owned business have fewer COVID-19 cases.

We turn to the federal COVID-19 relief programs for businesses, small, midsize and large facing steep declines in consumer demand from closures due to the pandemic. There has been a lack of equal access to such relief.

“The Paycheck Protection Program,” according to the NY Fed, “the federal government’s signature relief program for small businesses, has left significant coverage gaps: these loans reached only 20% of eligible firms in states with the highest densities of Black-owned firms, and in counties with the densest Black-owned business activity, coverage rates were typically lower than 20%.”

Firms with payrolls and sole proprietorships were able to apply for round one of the PPP of $349 billion to finance salaries, benefits, utilities, mortgages and rent payments. A second round of PPP allocated $310 billion.

Gaps in PPP coverage persisted across hard-hit metropolitan areas as federal relief began. “Research from the New York Fed and the University of Chicago found that loans from the first round of PPP were not correlated with the number of COVID-19 cases in a state,” according to the Fed.

Shaundell Newsome is a Las Vegas-based Black small businessperson. He applied without success for a PPP 1.0 loan. Undeterred, he, a military veteran, applied for a PPP 2.0 loan.

“The tragedy is how Black-owned small businesses received relief from the federal government that was too slow or non-existent,” Newsome told MultiBriefs via email, “assuring that most would not succeed in this sudden crisis.”

Private lenders and Black business owners have had a rocky relationship. “Black-owned firms — both employer and nonemployer — apply for financing at equal or higher rates than white-owned firms but are denied at higher rates,” according to the Fed brief.

Roshaun Davis is co-owner of Unseen Heroes, a Black-owned events planning firm, in Sacramento, California. “It wasn’t until this past January (12 years into our business) that we received our first official line of credit,” he told MultiBriefs in an email.

Black firms, out of necessity, have tapped personal and other funding sources to launch enterprises.

“I started my business with money from my personal savings, initially,” said Newsome. “And in 2007 my father put a substantial amount in the company to become my first investor and business partner. Black-owned companies typically have to rely on their own cash or families and friends to get started.”

“People have seen what we are able to create with limited resources,” according to Davis. “Imagine what would be possible if there were an abundance of resources.”

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Podcast: How to successfully target a niche with cash-based physical therapy services

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In this episode, Jarod Carter explains how you can target a niche to make your practice stand out from the competition. While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on a smaller market, the highly personalized messaging you can create for a niche makes your offer resonate far more than a generic “we fix everything” message ever could. This approach has been a real game-changer for many practice owners.

He shares specific strategies for choosing your niche and reaching out in ways that will help you gain a warm reception. And he explains a trick for how to multiply the ROI you’ll see from your outreach efforts.

More specifically, these strategies to target a niche are discussed:

  • The one thing a private practice must offer to achieve success with the cash-based business model.
  • Specific ideas for marketing to several niches, with specific strategies for how to get your private practice’s “foot in the door” with a target market.
  • How you can use presentations to gain access to your target niche and make those presentations continue to create patients for your practice long after the event.
  • The approach I’ve used with personal trainers that has brought in thousands of dollars of business and many referrals for my practice.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Artificial intelligence finds a purpose in healthcare because of COVID-19

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Of all the ways COVID-19 has impacted healthcare — such as the emergence of telehealth as a viable, useful solution for the provision of care — artificial intelligence is having a bit of a moment. Per countless reports, AI is seeing rapid adoption throughout healthcare to identify solutions to protect against the pandemic and gain an advantage against the seemingly unmitigated spread of the virus.

Sean Lane, the CEO of AI startup Olive, told Fierce Healthcare that AI will continue to accelerate at an unprecedented pace. “The pandemic is … [accelerating] adoption of tech and the moment we’ve been waiting for in healthcare to embrace a future that is internet-like and changes the perception of what’s necessary,” Lane said.

Work on the technology is taking place at every level — from startups to tech goliaths and health systems and payers.

According to Lane, demand for Olive’s AI-enabled robotic process automation solution has grown in the past five months, even though he began to prepare the company for no growth for a year to 18 months in March. “From a business perspective, nothing slowed down. It’s sped up,” he said.

Notably, Lane said that before the pandemic, he faced challenges of bringing his team toward adopting the technology and changes to workflow and processes.

AI is evolving in unplanned uses, too. According to Paul Friedman, M.D., the chairman of the cardiovascular department at Mayo Clinic, with the help of artificial intelligence, AI may be able to predict some future events of healthcare’s future.

Friedman and his team trained an AI algorithm embedded into standard electrocardiogram tests to detect which patients have a weak heart pump.

Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to use AI technology to search for physiological issues in the heart associated with cases of COVID-19, Friedman said.

Machines are now surpassing their human counterparts in some cases as AI is applied to an increasing number of healthcare tasks, he said.

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) also use AI to questions around how to reduce the amount of effort that goes on in healthcare, such a measuring healthcare quality, said Rebecca Jacobson, vice president of analytics at UPMC.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning also may help insurers. “We are using the AI approaches to try to protect future cost bubbles,” said Colt Courtright, chief data and analytics officer at Premera Blue Cross.

Insurers are starting to incorporate AI into claims management and customer service. Fierce Healthcare reports that insurers are also beginning to explore how AI can predict healthcare costs and outcomes.

Payer experts remain concerned about a possible wave of postponed and deferred care that may impact health systems as patients resume their services. “If we can predict, forecast, and personalize care virtually, then why not do that,” Rajeev Ronanki, senior vice president and chief digital officer at Anthem, told Fierce.

AI may be able to help predict healthcare costs and manage supply chains and other health services. “When you connect all those dots, AI can then be used to configure supply and demand better in anticipation of issues like this,” he said.

Ultimately, AI has the potential to provide data-driven clinical decision support (CDS) to physicians and health systems.

Google’s Cloud Healthcare application programming interface (API) is helping doctors make more informed clinical decisions regarding patients. According to Business Insider, “AI used in Google Cloud takes data from users’ electronic health records through machine learning — creating insights for healthcare providers to make better clinical decisions.”

Google assisted the University of California, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago to generate an AI system to predict hospital visits’ outcomes.

Jennifer Lehmann, system director of revenue cycle at the University of California Health System, said, “COVID created a sense of urgency and gave people the purpose to align. The technology has been there for several years. What we lacked was the sense of purpose and that culture change of collaboration.”

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COVID-19 and the power of the collective

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The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on myriad aspects of the healthcare system here in the United States, including the good, the bad, and the painfully ugly. We have also witnessed the many faces of the public’s appetite — or lack thereof — for a coordinated national response, not to mention the scientific community’s deep dive into the heart of the pandemic’s causes and possible amelioration.

Public health messaging has fallen on far too many deaf ears, and the federal government continues to botch multiple facets of the battle. If we are to prevail and save as many lives as possible in the coming months, the power of the collective must be more fully harnessed and realized.

The Collective Mind and Heart

In terms of the scientific and medical communities’ response, exponential progress has resulted from manifold collaborative efforts, the sharing of data and best practices, and the courage and dedication of scientists and medical personnel. In this regard, we see shining examples of collectivism, and the mounting body of literature will fuel research and discovery for years to come.

In medical facilities nationwide, teams form the bedrock upon which the treatment of COVID-19 is built. While we consistently heap gratitude on the praiseworthy nurses, doctors, and first responders on the front lines, we must also recognize the contributions of environmental service staff who clean the rooms of infected patients, and the innumerable individuals who keep medical facilities running smoothly. Beyond acute care, we have social workers, parent aides, ambulatory medical personnel, and home health staff who keep the wheels of healthcare delivery turning.

The societal collective manifests in grocery store and pharmacy employees, and those working in countless essential services and businesses, from the post office and its mail carriers to the local hardware store or bodega.

In the realm of the private citizen, contributions are made by helping neighbors, donating money or time, and remaining as calm as possible amidst existential fear and uncertainty. Our public health messaging has indeed reached millions willing to hear it, and every American who agrees to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and limit unnecessary travel also contributes to limiting the spread.

Where the Collective Falters

The power of the collective falters when the president and other politicians fail to model proper behavior by refusing to socially distance or consistently wear masks. The undermining of science and highly corrosive rhetoric fuel the fire of public distrust, and this only serves to make the work of those laboring around the clock to save lives that much more difficult.

When scores of young people feeling their fictitious invincibility gather at a popular beach en masse or pack a fraternity house without masks or any regard for social distancing, the power of the collective is further hobbled.

Even in the face of danger, accusations fly regarding the impingement on personal liberties vis-à-vis lockdown orders, mask-wearing, and social distancing. The forces of confusion reign supreme in some quarters, and this only extends the depth, breadth, length, and severity of the pandemic.

Misinformation, biased media sources, and those out for their own aggrandizement are a terrible hindrance, and even the tech giants appear unable to reign in the negative consequences and reach of the ubiquitous social media platforms they foisted upon our culture.

The collective falters when rabid individualism or the desire for personal gain eclipse the good of the whole, and we all suffer at the hands of those refusing to fight on the right side of history.

Pulling Together

In order to overcome this grave threat to every aspect of our lives — and life itself — we must unfailingly pull together in unprecedented ways on a daily basis.

If the government wants schools to reopen for full-time in-person education, the funds and federal wherewithal must be made available so that this can be done as safely as possible. If we want every citizen to wear a mask and socially distance, elected leaders must consistently model such behavior. And if we want Americans back to work, we must create an environment wherein this too can be done with relative safety.

In 1918, groups united against social distancing and mask-wearing also arose, and millions more likely died than might have otherwise. In such scenarios, only a centralized federal mandate will mitigate these battles, yet the prospect of such occurring is bleak.

Individual citizens, families, social groups, neighborhoods, and other communities must band together in these times. Faith leaders, social justice movements, and other powerful forces can also join the conversation.

Corruption, infighting, partisanship and politicking, and unfettered opposition to science must be reined in if we are to succeed, and leaders must be elected who can unite the country when the need for collectivism could not be greater.

When the years have passed and the complete history of this coronavirus pandemic is written, we will indeed see the good, the bad, and the veritably ugly. Collective thought and action will certainly be seen as central pillars of the battle; thus we must cling to hope, even as we feel hopeless. The human spirit and the will to survive are strong; now we need even more of us to grasp this notion and cleave to one another and the strength of the collective in the struggle for our future.

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