Not since the H1N1 virus pandemic of 1918-1919 (Spanish flu) have healthcare providers and institutions faced a crisis as massive and uncharted as the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond the widespread healthcare implications, it also has disrupted our financial security, our workplaces, and virtually every aspect of our lives, including how we interact with each other. The sense that we are only at the beginning of the pandemic with no clear answer as to when or how it resolves, coupled with the lack of clear information or management at the federal level, only exacerbates an already frightening situation.
It is not an understatement to say that we are close to a panic situation throughout the country.
Health plans-which were nonexistent during the Spanish flu pandemic-can and should play an enormous role in their communities as we confront the COVID-19 fears and challenges facing members, providers, and the soon-to-be overwhelmed public and non-profit resources.
There has never been a more important time for healthcare executives to step up and play a major role in guiding their communities through this crisis using every resource at their disposal to provide timely, accurate information and access to testing and care.
To accomplish this, we recommend establishing an internal COVID-19 management team that communicates daily with an objective of managing the flow of information, ensuring access to medications and providers, and portraying a sense of calm and control through the crisis.
In this time of crisis, health plans should be a trusted source of Information. Err on the side of providing too much information rather than too little. Remember to use plain language and avoid acronyms. Use feedback from your staff, including but not limited to, customer and provider services, and include details that will answer the questions posed by your members and providers.
Here is some of the information that health plans should be providing:
It is also important to serve as a resource for local media and to collaborate with local and national agencies to provide up-to-date information about guidelines and access to supportive resources.
Health plans should also be working to ease access to care. Here are some the steps that they can take:
Adapt your organization to the changing environment
It is likely that many organizations will become largely virtual (at least in the short-term) with the bulk of employees working from home, often with dependent children and other distractions. This will create a challenging environment for assuring high level organizational performance. Expect productivity to drop.
Your team will need help to make working from home productive and successful. Here are some ingredients of successful WFH arrangements:
• Tele- and video-conferencing capabilities
• Ability to log-in to workspaces or VPN for email and projects
• Regular management communications
• Telephone and computer access
• Guidelines on expectation for work product
• Information on impacts to payroll, training, travel, and PTO
• Regular updates on schedule and “return to normal”
We’re in unknown territory here, and events seem to be moving at the speed of light.
Health plans are at the front lines and need to be positioned to deal with the information vacuum and provide access to critical testing and affordable care.
Don Hall, MPH and Sherry Rohlfing are principals of DeltaSigma, a consulting firm that specializes in strategic problem solving for managed care organizations.