COVID-19 brings public health community engagement into focus

As a country, we’re deep into the COVID-19 public health emergency, recently passing 1,000,000 reported domestic cases. In the month of April, that meant an average of about 30,000 newly reported cases in America…per day. 

Businesses have been sidelined, gatherings have been shut down and state lockdowns stretch on. It may seem that “community” is farther away than ever — but, in fact, now is the time when we need community most. 

Community is key

This isn’t a new concept, especially when applied to healthcare crises. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) observed that “communities MUST BE at the heart of any public health intervention, especially in emergencies.”  

WHO made this statement during a Community Engagement training session and went on to point out that:

  • Everyone has a right to know about risks to their health and well-being.

  • Culturally appropriate information can help make informed decisions to reduce health risks.

  • Action taken by individuals, families and communities affected are key to controlling the public health threat/problem.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the accuracy of these statements, and has also shown the benefit of using digital care management software outside of the health system on a community or population level.

Bringing personalized monitoring to individuals

One such example during COVID-19 can be found in the state of Maine. 

In collaboration with the Maine volunteer group Pledge to Protect ME, GetWellNetwork has made its COVID-19 Self-Monitoring Loop available to all Mainers. The COVID-19 Self-Monitoring Loop is one of four digital care plans that engage with individuals to help mitigate health system capacity overload. 

This is done through self-monitoring and automatic identification of individuals in need of caregiver intervention, enabling patients and prospective patients to safely distance at home unless a physical intervention is required. The digital nature of these tools also helps reduce inbound calls to state hotlines or other systems in place, enabling resources to remain devoted where they’re needed most.

Scalable + within reach

Implementing digital solutions within a community or population health engagement initiative is not a heavy lift due to the scalable technology GetWell Loop uses. In addition, traditional methods of outreach and education can still be utilized, including:

  1. Public service announcements: Government, news and social media channels are being used more than ever by citizens looking for accurate COVID-19 information. Using these outlets to share news and instructions on digital solutions will go a long way towards widespread adoption.

  2. Sharing of limited population data: Government, employer and other agencies have access to limited personal information that can be safely shared and used to conduct direct outreach to individuals. Basic information such as name, date of birth, email address and zip code can be used to directly contact individuals to advise them of available solutions and, as needed, to assist in contact tracing.

  3. Health information exchange (HIE) interface: Healthcare organizations across the U.S. have collaborated to create HIEs that allow safe and effective sharing of critical health information about patients. HIEs should be viewed as an essential utility to enable monitoring of COVID-19 and other public health conditions. Tapping this readily available health data repository enables officials to more quickly respond to public health challenges.

The bottom line

The key to developing a solution to COVID-19 or similar public health issue is a commitment to sound clinical content and resources that are based on peer-reviewed and/or nationally/internationally recognized guidelines. The development of these solutions should be guided by an external group of clinical experts in the field, bringing authority and comfort to patients and citizens alike.

When digital solutions are deployed swiftly in response to ongoing public health challenges, the general population is granted three things: 

  • A means of education

  • A route to engagement

  • The reassurance of triage

Each of these factors will help put them at ease as they stay safely at home, while frontline workers do their best to flatten the curve. 

That’s community at its best — and it’s community that’s being protected.