Radio Advisory's Rachel Woods sat down with Kavita Patel, former director of policy in the Obama administration and advisor to Stop the Spread, to discuss what lessons Covid-19 has taught the health care industry and how the industry can apply those lessons to other health care challenges.
The crisis phase of the pandemic is starting to wane, giving the health care industry time to reflect and think about the lessons learned from the pandemic.
Radio Advisory's Rachel Woods sat down with Dr. Kavita Patel, former director of policy in the Obama administration and advisor to Stop the Spread, to discuss what lessons Covid-19 has taught the health care industry and how the industry can apply those lessons to other health care challenges.
Read a lightly edited except from the interview below and download the episode for the full conversation.
Rachel Woods: Another key lesson that I think we've learned the hard way is that all health leaders need, frankly, a relentless focus on health equity in their communities and for their patients. This is something that's so much easier said than done, especially when it comes to connecting the things we offer, whether it's social services, whether it's testing, treatment, vaccination to the vulnerable populations who need it the most.
What are some examples of what Stop The Spread has done to make that connection happen?
Kavita Patel: Stop The Spread found this time and time again and we highlight this in our briefs—every touchpoint is an opportunity to help with health equity and that includes helping families sign up for social services because with the reason we have these health disparities is because access to education, access to digital services, access to broadband, these things matter when it comes to making decisions and having the ability to have freedom about your health.
So every touchpoint is an opportunity to help connect people. And we saw that time and time again with helping to plug people into programs just to get them vaccinated, for example. Investing in redeploying the trusted workforce.
So you just mentioned it takes people to get these programs set up, testing, tracing. Think about all those things that we did. We don't need to have that exact same apparatus forever because we're getting vaccinated and hopefully that'll keep the virus back.
Woods: We probably can't use that apparatus forever either.
Patel: Apparently we have no federal funding for it either, so it's just going to go away anyway. But I do think that having that structure is absolutely critical.
Honestly, this is going to sound, I work in a safety net environment, a federally qualified health center, we need to start thinking about ways to make it just easier to be in the safety net. It is so hard to do some of these things and it doesn't need to be. So modernizing it a bit, if you will.
Woods: Stop The Spread actually called this effort Vaccine+. Get your vaccine and then something else, whether it's a connection to a social service, diabetes screening, etc. Can you share your favorite story or example from the Vaccine+ program?
Patel: My favorite one is actually a mental health partnership so that while people were waiting for those 15 minutes, they could also do very simple, very straightforward, two nine question screeners. Picking up so much depression, anxiety, up to 10% of the population having these issues and going undiagnosed.
And then a second one—you didn't ask for a second one, but I have to do it—a second one was partnering with some of the food based startups and doing something that helped when people were getting vaccines, if there were food insecurity issues, they could help through a technology based food access platform, plug people in, again, while they were waiting.
So it's a great way to take advantage, 15 minutes, because you got to watch patients for any side effects and having an audience that could use those services in the moment. That's the best part of Vaccine+.
Woods: I'm glad you shared a second example because I think that one is really cool, because most folks think about their partnerships in a limited way. They think about community partners. They think about food banks. They think about churches. They think about libraries. But you just said a tech startup.
Patel: Yeah, Bento was the name of this particular one. They use a tech-based platform to connect people to food supply. It's meant to also address food insecurity, but it really connects local restaurants, local entrepreneurs with excess food supply or time when they have extra meals, etc., extra groceries on hand, connecting them to people who could use that and modernizing the safety net, but doing it through technology that's entrepreneurial as well.
Woods: We're talking about how to deploy these new innovations outside of just the Covid-19 pandemic. I know you in particular have worked with Stop The Spread, but you've also worked with other parts of the private sector. You've worked with the federal government; you know how all sides of this industry work.
My question is, at what point do we need to go further? At what point does regulation need to step in? When do we need legislation to do what private health care stakeholders just can't?
Patel: I used to joke when I worked in the Senate and the White House, that if you did a policy rulemaking and everybody loved it, you did something wrong. And if everybody hated it, you did something wrong. The right balance was having people who were both pissed off and happy about it. And then you knew you did something good.
So I think in that vein, I think we're going to have to see some, you can call it new legislation or you can call it CMS and agencies just exerting authorities over things like telehealth access and capabilities. How we provide these vaccine services, for example. Believe it or not, there's actually a limit to how we can provide home-based vaccines.
There was a lot of exceptions that were made for the public health emergency and Covid, but why wouldn't I be able to regularly deploy services to home-based care and taking care of some of the regulatory barriers to that I think is an incredible way to do that. So those are things that I think providers would get around.
But I think on the other hand, there needs to be some accountability. There's a big debate about telehealth and how much is too much, how much is too little? And I think there is probably going to be some level setting of that. And that might be paying for me as a physician. If that's what it takes to see it continue permanently, I'm willing to negotiate and talk about it.