The Eighth Immunization Congress (IMCO 2020), recently held by VOCES, addressed the issues of telehealth and telemedicine with the purpose of analyzing the challenges and possibilities presented by the use of electronic information, virtual communication and platforms to expand the access to health services during the coronavirus pandemic for patients most at risk.
For VOCES, health promotion and prevention at various levels are a priority. The initiative called Patients First, composed of several non-profit organizations began the discussion with a five-month update of the strategies to control the pandemic.
Led by AARP Director José Acarón, the dialogue strengthened their commitment to supporting patients with education to accelerate the use of telehealth and telemedicine programs.
Patients First are made up of the Puerto Rican Diabetes Association, the Renal Council of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and VOCES; who are waiting to know the results of their proposal presented to the committee appointed by the Government, which is evaluating Tele Salud’s proposals.
Puerto Rican businesswoman María Fernanda Levis-Peralta, founder of Impactivo Consulting, presented the importance of addressing the current needs of patients to transform the health system in an effective and sustainable way.
Levis-Peralta, who recently received a major grant from the National Science Foundation, stressed that to address the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential that health service providers receive greater support and resources to achieve this transformation.
Changes in population behavior have been so marked that it is important to empower providers with specific data about their patients to assess, design and implement telehealth initiatives based on the real needs of the population they serve.
This is aligned with efforts to counteract misinformation, promote health, and prevent the spread and severity of Covid-19 on the Island.
In response to this need, the company has developed several innovative instruments to collect and analyze data in Puerto Rico during the pandemic.
Among these, Impactivo adapted and translated the Covid-10 Rapid Risk Communication in Puerto Rico Report for the country, a rapid assessment instrument on risk communication and community participation developed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In addition, it developed the Impactive Patient Telehealth Readiness Assessment (IPTRA), the first tool in the United States that allows the collection and analysis of data at the population level to provide resources and support to providers and health centers in their telehealth implementation.
The tool is designed taking into account the current limitations imposed by the Covid-19 emergency and is being adapted for the management of chronic diseases and other health conditions through telehealth.
The survey, which obtained a sample of 385 people (which represents 95% confidence of the 2 million Facebook users who live in Puerto Rico), revealed that:
79% understand that they or someone who lives in their home are in one of the high risk categories for complications from Covid-19
Only 24% understand that a personal visit would be more useful today
95% have a smartphone to access the Internet
93% know how to use the cell phone for face-to-face communication
Only 6% have used telehealth
Only 78% are comfortable with telehealth
However, 95% like the idea of communicating with their medical team via the Internet
The interest of the respondents to use telehealth as a means of communication is evident, and all participants would use these services if they were available.
The results showed that patients have limited access to telehealth alternatives and technology, and may not even know how to use them.
Levis highlighted the importance of keeping people healthy in their homes and communities right now while offering medical diagnosis and treatment services in an accessible and remote way, minimizing in-person visit time.
“The transformation towards telehealth has to be done from an equity platform. It is necessary to consider the social determinants of health, invest in maximizing access to health communication resources and tools, restructure workflows so that they are patient-centered, retrain the workforce, rethink payment models for services to cover these services, insert new technology for data analysis and remote communication, and involve and educate patients and the organizations that support them, ”said Levis.
For her part, Lilliam Rodríguez Capó, founder and director of VOCES, said that in Puerto Rico we have about 1.2 million people with pre-existing chronic health conditions.
“The fear they feel when leaving their homes to take care of their health is real and the results of the Impactive Patient Telehealth Readiness Assessment (IPTRA) prove it. It is urgent that we take immediate action in the face of the more than 500 deaths related to Covid-19 that have already been confirmed, ”she said.
In line with this, said Rodríguez Capó, the Los Pacientes Primero alliance, which brings together seven of the main non-profit organizations that offer education, advocate or provide services to patients with chronic health conditions in Puerto Rico and their caregivers, presented a proposal to the government to contribute to the solution and meet the needs of patients in the face of the health emergency and the threat to the lives of our patients presented by Covid-19.