U.S. health insurers and health systems are stepping up to the challenge of treating patients with caution and care and are implementing crisis response tactics for the COVID-19 global crisis. Firms are uniformly responding to the pandemic by highlighting important information about the virus, Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and disease prevention on their websites. Firms are also rapidly expanding both their telehealth capabilities and mobile testing clinics to address the urgent need for safer care delivery.

Crisis Response Tactics for COVID-19

Crisis Communications

Across the Health Plan Monitor coverage group, all 17 firms include a coronavirus alert somewhere on their public sites. Of those firms, 13 have created COVID-19 resource centers on their public sites that highlight important information about coverage and treatment options for users. Some firms, like Humana, have waived coronavirus testing costs and virtual care co-pays, while others have eliminated prescription refill waiting periods and expanded telehealth services to make care available 24/7. Moreover, many firms have implemented a combination of these measures. By making these decisions, health insurers ease patient anxieties about debt, facilitate smoother transactions between users and pharmacies, and reduce unnecessary contact at urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

Telehealth

Health systems are doing their part as well— firms we track feature coronavirus information on their public site homepages. Many, like Houston Methodist and NYU Langone, are promoting their telehealth services to users as a to in-person visits. In order to meet the increasing demand for more virtual appointments, firms like Geisinger Health are racing to do years of work in a matter of days to improve their telehealth infrastructure and telecommuting capabilities for staff. Firms used to see an average of 80 virtual patients daily; now, due to coronavirus, that number can be up to 1,500.

Anthem offers telehealth for COVID crisis response Anthem BCBS’s public site homepage encourages members to use its telehealth offering

Drive-Through Coronavirus Testing

These new digital health options are arising along new options for in-person care. Kaiser Permanente recently opened a drive-through coronavirus testing clinic to expand availability of care and limit person-to-person contact, while also continuing to promote its telehealth service. Similar drive-through testing centers are opening across the country, from Seattle to New York. These temporary clinics, in tandem with virtual care, could help alleviate health system overload, but they require tests, staff and personal protection equipment (PPE)—which are currently in short supply—in order to be effective. Solutions for tackling this shortage are ongoing, with non-profits creatively pairing manufacturers with firms in need to address gaps in supplies and government agencies directly supporting firms that need assistance.

Drive through coronavirus testing

Staff handle a coronavirus test at a FEMA drive-through clinic in Massachusetts (Boston Globe)

The CDC estimates that between 160 and 214 million Americans will contract the novel coronavirus, with anywhere between 2.4 to 21 million of these cases being life threatening. With only 925,000 hospital beds in the country, preventing a disastrous bottleneck in the healthcare system by “flattening the curve” is the top public health priority. In this way, telehealth is vitally important during a pandemic: virtual care appointments prevent the spread of disease to essential healthcare workers and free up space for truly ill patients in U.S. urgent care centers and emergency rooms. Increasing the amount of care available, or “raising line,” is equally important for treating the most urgent cases effectively. Both methodologies, when employed by industry leaders, encourage social distancing practices and expand access to healthcare, and they could ultimately save thousands of lives.

For more examples of crisis response tactics for COVID-19 and how healthcare organizations we track are responding to the COVID-19 epidemic, visit our new dedicated client site section on the topic. If you are not a Corporate Insight client, follow the links provided to learn more about our healthcare research services focusing on health plans, health systems, and Medicare.

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