6 key updates for CIOs as COVID-19 surges across the US

The rules around telehealth continue to evolve and the federal government now wants hospitals to report more about COVID-19.

Here are six key technology and financial updates for CIOs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. The Trump administration requested hospitals send data on COVID-19 testing as well as bed capacity and supplies to help the administration's surveillance efforts of the coronavirus on March 29. This is not a requirement, but CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in an interview with NPR that they are seeing a "great response" from hospitals and have not had a problem with gathering the information so far. Hospitals can submit information by emailing data in a spreadsheet to fema-hhs-covid-diagnostics-tf@fema.dhs.gov.

2. Telehealth continues to spread as the primary method for physicians and nurses to connect with patients across the country, as more hospitals convert in-person visits to virtual visits when possible. Patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are also encouraged to do virtual visits before getting tested or arriving at the hospital if their symptoms are not severe. HHS issued guidance on the platforms physicians can use to communicate with patients, which include: Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, Zoom and Skype. HHS said physicians cannot use Facebook Live, Twitch or Tik Tok to communicate with patients.

3. Hospitals and health systems are building their own tools within the EHR to help manage the COVID-19 response. UC San Diego Health researchers built several COVID-19 specific tools, including 24-hour monitoring for COVID-19 patients, pre-screening protocols, systemwide EHR templates and reporting and analytics as well as patient-facing technology. Renton, Wash.-based Providence also outfitted its EHR with several new protocols and alerts to help quickly identify patients at high risk of COVID-19 and the University of Washington created a digital tool to predict the COVID-19 peak by state. The ONC's Proving Ground open platform is tracking interoperability projects related to COVID-19 so healthcare providers can share that information.

4. The strain of canceling elective procedures and diverting resources to treat COVID-19 patients has caused more hospitals to furlough employees, and in some cases like Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, N.J., executives are taking dramatic pay cuts as revenues drop. Bon Secours Mercy Health reported an estimated $100 million revenue loss per month due to COVID-19 and will furlough around 700 employees over the next week, the system announced on March 31. In many cases, staff furloughed are those who are not providing direct patient care.

5. Fitch reported recently that nonprofit hospitals are vulnerable to coronavirus-related market fallout, and about half of nonprofit hospitals have 10 percent to 40 percent of their portfolios invested in equities. It also reported that hospitals have seen a median loss of about 30 days of cash on hand in the past few weeks, but that isn't of "immediate concern yet" and most hospitals have cash on hand to fund about 200 days of operations.

6. CMS added 84 more Medicare services covered under telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic. The FCC also proposed a $200 million COVID-19 program to equip providers for telehealth services during the pandemic.

More articles on health IT:
5 hospital-created tech dashboards for COVID-19
How Providence outfitted its EHR within 24 hours of its 1st COVID-19 patient
How a Florida health system is scaling COVID-19 test responses with AI

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