10 updates for CIOs during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The trend toward data-sharing locally and nationally accelerated with new platforms and efforts across the U.S. to coordinate COVID-19 treatment efforts.

Healthcare organizations are also taking new steps to address the financial burden of COVID-19. Here are 10 key updates for CIOs:

1. New York has merged its 200 hospitals into a single digital system to make sure staff, patients and equipment are delivered to the hospitals most in need. The state's health department is overseeing the digital system and set thresholds for the number of ICU bed occupations or ICU COVID-19 cases that trigger transfers. IT will also manage personal protective equipment distribution.

2. Hospitals are now reporting data to the federal government about COVID-19 testing performed at academic, university and hospital in-house laboratories. They also are reporting data about bed capacity and supplies through the National Healthcare Safety Network COVID-19 Patient Impact and Hospital Capacity Module daily. The government aims to use the information to ensure appropriate resource allocation.

3. Microsoft alerted hospitals that it has vulnerabilities in its system that hackers could exploit in ransomware attacks. Many hospitals have increased their use of Microsoft tools for remote working and team coordination during the pandemic. The vulnerabilities are within virtual private networks and would be "human-level" ransomware attacks that could exist on the network for months undetected. Microsoft sent out a targeted notification with important information about the vulnerabilities and recommended applying security updates to avoid issues.

4. HHS reported it will not penalize hospitals or their business associates for disclosing COVID-19-related protected health information on April 2. The agency aims to support efforts to provide federal and state public health authorities with critical COVID-19 data. Business associates of hospitals can now share this information without risking a HIPAA penalty.

5. Zoom, a popular videoconferencing platform, is under fire after privacy issues surfaced while the company struggled to manage a huge influx of users due to COVID-19. At the end of 2019, Zoom had 10 million users, and that has exploded to 200 million users. Healthcare providers across the country are using HIPAA-compliant versions of Zoom for telehealth as well as virtual meetings during the pandemic. Zoom portrayed itself as having end-to-end encryption to safeguard conversations, but security experts have found that it does not, and the company is working toward shoring up the encryption over the next few months.

6. HCA Healthcare, a 185-hospital system, partnered with Google Cloud to create an open source COVID-19 data-sharing platform, expected to launch next week. The platform will include information on ICU bed supply and utilization, ventilator supply and COVID-19 test results in addition to the number of healthy patients discharged from hospitals. HCA is seeking more health systems to join the platform and input information daily.

7. CMS approved about $34 billion in payments to hospitals and other healthcare providers in the last week by expanding the Accelerated and Advanced Payment Program. It received about 25,000 requests from healthcare providers and approved 17,000 of them for advanced payments to help with the financial strain of COVID-19.

8. Health systems continue to furlough workers in response to COVID-19 as elective surgeries are canceled and margins tighten. MUSC Health laid off 900 employees in its eight-hospital system and reduced pay for salaried workers due to the financial impact of COVID-19. The system also delayed capital expenditures and reduced contractual services. Fifty-nine other hospitals and health system also furloughed workers.

9. Moody's Investor Services said the $2 trillion federal coronavirus aid package recently signed into law, including $100 billion for nonprofit hospitals, won't completely cover losses from the pandemic. Postponed services are likely to cause a 25 percent to 40 percent revenue drop for nonprofit hospitals on average, whether the hospitals treat a large caseload of COVID-19 patients or not.

10. There are six promising treatments for COVID-19, including a drug from Gilead and an HIV drug made by AbbVie. President Donald Trump has also called chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which appear in antimalarial drugs, "game changers," although they have not been clinically proven to effectively treat COVID-19. Take a look at the breakdown of the treatments with the most potential here.


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