It’s time to accept the undeniable reality: disruptions to medical care caused by COVID-19 have created life-threatening complications for patients across the United States. Overcrowded and understaffed hospitals; postponement of routine care; as well as disruptions in preventative services such as cancer screenings and cardiac procedures have left our country’s health systems reeling as they plan for the future. Healthcare providers are now wondering how are they going to handle so many people on the verge of a catastrophic health event?
As Donald Lloyd-Jones, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and president of the American Heart Association, noted in The Wall Street Journal, “We’re going to live with the ripple effects and the echoes of this pandemic for a long time. We’re going to see not only more deaths in the years to come, we’re going to see a lot more illness in people who are alive. »
Although there are no numbers at present that fully convey the impact of delayed care, early predictions of what the future holds are alarming; particularly, in communities that suffered from higher rates of health inequities before the cumulative effects of the pandemic. A recent report estimated that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) alone will need an additional $23 billion to cover the next increase in medical costs for our nation’s veterans. The report predicts a significant increase in more complicated and expensive medical care as veterans return to routine medical appointments.
If the anticipated impact of deferred care for veterans exceeds $23 billion, what can we expect the ultimate costs of deferred care to add up to for the 6 in 10 Americans who are already living with at least a chronic illness such as heart disease, stroke, cancer or diabetes? Whether or not these people have voluntarily delayed their health care over the past two years, we know one thing is true: delaying care leads to worse outcomes, and without intervention, these people will suffer.
Now is the time to act, before it’s too late to improve patient outcomes. As a country, we sit on a deep, untapped reservoir of data that is separately collected by commercial, federal, state, and local agencies based on their unique needs and interests. We can no longer operate independently of each other if we are to close the gaps in patient care. This will require coordination at the national level. Our nation’s data must be accessed, analyzed and leveraged for better outcomes for those who need it most.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Through a concerted effort to coordinate this invaluable data, millions of people will benefit from our expertise. The acceptance and use of predictive models will allow healthcare organizations to assess risk and identify those most in need of medical services. We have the technologies, algorithms and experts to meet these challenges. Our country can resolve this emerging crisis. The time to intervene is now for a better future.
Gary Velasquez is the founder and CEO of Berkeley-based data science company Cogitativo.