Healthcare and Tech coming together during the COVID-19 crisisFeatured
Telehealth for musculoskeletal conditions has become a hot topic during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in my field of physical therapy and clinical research. For some time, researchers have developed and tested telehealth interventions, advocacy groups have supported its use, and commercial tech products have hit the market to seize the opportunity, but large-scale adoption hasn't caught on. Now, COVID-19 has become the catalyst for telehealth for musculoskeletal conditions. Overnight, clinicians geared up to deliver patient care remotely. Are we ready? State and federal organizations are far behind the curve with regards to payment and practice regulation, but policy changes are happening rapidly. Several commercial insurance companies are now reimbursing for telehealth services for physical therapy and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services is considering legislation to follow suit. States are also passing practice act legislation to include telehealth services. Barriers to telehealth that were once paramount and made this type of delivery model almost impossible are now being removed. There is now a unique opportunity for technologists to partner with physical therapists struggling to meet this new demand. With people rehabilitating after surgery, working from home, and developing or having a reoccurring musculoskeletal injury, the need for remotely delivered treatments is greater than ever. Survivors of COVID-19 will also need rehabilitation services after leaving the hospital to return home safely and to their prior levels of function. While these times are painful, sad, and unsettling, and the death toll estimates in the United States are terrifying, we can’t forget that the vast majority of individuals with COVID-19 will survive. So the question is: which healthcare services will they need to return home safely and to their prior health status? This is especially important, considering survivors are likely returning home to a shelter-in-place economy without access to home health, in-patient, or outpatient therapy services. In a recent article, 1 in 3 survivors who were discharged home from an intensive care unit never received home health services. The reason discharging a patient home from an intensive care unit without rehabilitation is a public health problem is that individuals are often severely deconditioned, at higher risk of a fall, and may have difficulties with resuming normal activities of daily living. Without addressing these impairments, survivors are at a higher risk of hospitalizations or requiring additional medical services, which are in short supply given the current COVID-crisis. I am new to the tech world, but am excited to see public and private partnerships with physical therapists and researchers working with tech companies to create tools to help clinicians deliver telehealth programs. Starting my career as a physical therapist and then transitioning to a clinical researcher, I saw the critical need of being able to scale high-quality patient care. There is no better industry to scale and implement high-value care than in the tech space. However, it was challenging to break into the tech world as a clinical researcher. Here are three tips I would recommend anyone trying to get into tech. Identify the top three projects/tasks that you are good at and enjoy. Here is why it’s crucial. Once I figured out that I was good at clinical research but enjoyed creating programs to have a more significant impact, I knew I needed to transition out of academia into tech. I would have been a good clinical researcher in academia but wouldn’t have enjoyed having a smaller impact. Once I figured out what I was both good at and enjoyed, I was able to create a meaningful career path.Talk to anyone who will give you the time but only foster valuable relationships. I was blown away and grateful for the advice and support by a handful of people who went out of their way to help me. These people do exist, it can be hard to find them and may take a lot of ‘ghosting’ or unhelpful feedback, but don’t give up until you find them. Once you find them, cherish that relationship and use it as the key to unlocking the doors in the tech space. Hopefully, someday I can pay it forward and become this person because I know how vital it is to enter a new industry. Let yourself spiral. I had some terrible days trying to network on LinkedIn, updating my profile on a countless number of tech webpages, and not receiving even a curtsy email to say you didn’t get the job. I thought for the longest time that I needed to have thick skin. I would keep telling myself, “you will get it next time,” “stay positive,” and “don’t let the rejection get you down” But the reality is I am sensitive, and I needed to accept that I am going to feel like shit at times. Instead of beating myself up for not having a thick enough skin, I permitted myself to spiral, feel bad for getting rejected, and trusted that I had the grit to get back up and try again. Once I accepted this, my job hunting process became a lot more manageable mentally because I could get out of my head. The expansion of digital programs will help patients treat their musculoskeletal conditions now and beyond our current crisis. For information on Coronavirus and how to advocate for physical therapy services through telehealth platforms, check out the American Physical Therapy Association. For those in tech looking for an opportunity, think about collaborating with outpatient physical therapists that need help transitioning to a telehealth delivery model. While telehealth for physical therapy is particularly critical now, telehealth is here to stay and will be a part of the new healthcare system post-COVID-19. Here are a few ways people in the tech community can help and come together with the healthcare community during the COVID-19 crisis. Create an online support group to connect people who are grieving during COVID-19. I found a Twitter community of graduate students who defended their Ph.D. dissertations remotely. It helped to have a community to support each other, grieve the losses, and celebrate the accomplishments. Create websites to crowdsource accurate data and information related to COVID-19.Create websites to connect volunteers with organizations to provide support to vulnerable populations, e.g., deliver medications and groceries to those at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Create websites to connect people with healthcare providers who are offering telehealth services within their insurance network and within the state.Develop predictive models to identify people at risk of developing a new medical condition and provide resources on how to access healthcare services .Provide data security training and technology information workshops to teach people how to use software to maintain data and privacy with remote work, healthcare, and education. Provide technology tutorials to teach people (notably, less tech-savvy patients) how to use platforms like Zoom to connect with healthcare providers, friends, and family. Create websites that help healthcare providers and teachers develop online content to improve remote learning and healthcare services during the crisis. Meredith is a clinical research scientist at Fern Health. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree from Linfield College and Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Pacific University. Meredith completed an orthopedic physical therapy residency at UT Southwestern Medical Center and her Ph.D. in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. Her research interest is in musculoskeletal disorders and chronic pain management, and she is dedicated to improving the quality the healthcare through using data-driven strategies to optimize physical mobility and patient outcomes.