Over the past few weeks, like most of you, I’ve been washing my hands consistently — trying not to touch my face — and keeping up on the news and public health directives surrounding the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
To me, the global outbreak highlights several important health care issues. First, the virus shows, in real and powerful ways, the critical value of our public health infrastructure: health officials, organized public health organizations, and response plans at every level of government.
Equally important, the rapidly evolving pandemic reinforces the importance of having an on-going, trusted relationship with a primary care provider. As news of COVID-19 grew, one of the first specific advice emails I received was from my primary care practice. The email explained what I should do if I develop symptoms of a serious virus. My experience shows how technology can strengthen communication between patients and their providers. I am able to reach my primary care provider through telephone or text —reassuring options at a stressful time.
I believe we’ll see the value of telemedicine advance during this crisis. Telemedicine is a safe and convenient way for many people to access medical advice while reducing potential exposure in a clinical setting. Right now, the virus is prompting New Jersey health systems and insurers to accelerate their use of telehealth platforms for patients.
The State Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI), meanwhile, is requiring insurers to develop robust telemedicine options, among other emergency measures, to help us contain COVID-19. DOBI also is advising insurers to waive cost sharing for patients seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. Insurers appear to be complying and notifying their members.
Finally, this pandemic further highlights the need for universal access to health care services that are affordable. The virus does not only infect people with insurance cards in their wallets. It does not only infect people with affordable coverage and low deductibles. Clearly, we can’t limit treatment to only those with good health insurance. That’s a formula for catastrophe. To function as a healthy society, we need a health system that enables us all to get the care we need — when we need it.
A public health crisis, such as the one we are now facing, tests our strengths and highlights our weaknesses. We will see both emerge in the coming weeks and months.