COVID-19: Pandemic Strategy and What IPC Personnel Need to Know

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What do infection prevention and control personnel need to know about preparing for future pandemics? Maureen Hennessey, PhD, CPCC, CPHQ, SVP, and Cynthia Miller, MD, MPH, discuss their thoughts with ICT.

To be prepared for the next pandemic, we must consider what went wrong with the COVID-19 pandemic and what went right. From telemedicine services to licensure requirements, what does the health care community still need to do to prepare?

In this final of 3 installments of the exclusive interview Infection Control Today® (ICT®) conducted with Maureen Hennessey, PhD, CPCC, CPHQ, SVP, director of value transformation of Precision Value, and Cynthia Miller, MD, MPH, vice president and medical director of the Access Experience Team of Precision Value, discuss what infection prevention and control personnel should take away from their discussion with ICT® about how to prepare for future epidemics and pandemics.

The first installment is here.

The second installment is here.

ICT®: Do you think it's too late for this pandemic to build a strategy that anticipates seasonal fluctuations for research, development, and vaccine product supply chains?

Cynthia Miller, MD, MPH: We instituted the tools for this pandemic that we had available. Those were boosters, flu vaccine, masks, handwashing, and testing at home. We know there are new vaccines in the pipeline—COVID-19 and [respiratory syncytial virus]—to address future pandemics or epidemics. We also know that recently the federal government made a huge investment in public health infrastructure and training that will be important for the future. We know that we're trying to get a lot more public health professionals trained to manage these types of events in the future. We implemented what we have, but we need many more tools to evolve and develop moving forward.

ICT®: What do you think infection preventionists, EVS personnel, and other infection prevention and control personnel should take away from this discussion?

Maureen Hennessey, PhD, CPCC, CPHQ, SVP: One of the things [that] is important is for us to reinforce self-care, testing, early treatment, taking care of ourselves as health care professionals so that we can be available for our coworkers, for our families, and stop the spread, and be active in the workforce. Early on, we overlooked the importance of behavioral science in vaccine adoption, and we're still catching up in that area.

I want to encourage all of us who are involved in infection protection throughout the organizations that we work with and on all levels of the organization to work and collaborate as much as possible with our quality management departments, who are instituting any number of continuous quality improvement initiatives to help prevent these infections and many other infections. It is important for individuals throughout an organization and multiple sectors to provide input into infection control efforts and efforts to streamline workflow because streamlined workflow can diminish some of the required efforts and help potentially diminish or prevent burnout.

CM: We have relied on individuals at the frontline to manage our response to epidemics and pandemics while we were waiting for our system to catch up regarding funding or infrastructure. We know that's not sustainable. So, we need to continue with national and global efforts for pandemic preparedness in terms of physical and technological infrastructure, coordinated research and development, messaging programs, and those kinds of public health initiatives as we move into the future, where we know we're going to continue to see more infectious disease events.

ICT®: Do you have anything else you would like to add?

MH: We need to increase our efforts throughout the health care ecosystem for individuals to self-test as much as possible for any infectious diseases. If self-test is not feasible, [get] earlier intervention, get to our physicians, call our health care providers quickly [and] early. If in doubt, call so that we can get earlier intervention. We have therapies now that can greatly diminish the impact of these kinds of infections. Yet, we're not always connecting with them quickly enough so that [individuals] can benefit, and many people still don’t realize they can benefit from these [therapies].

We need to increase our efforts throughout the health care continuum so that [individuals] can earlier self-identify that they might need some additional assistance and get themselves connected to have the optimal results of the therapies we have available.

CM: We need to keep looking at our health care system and how to maximize its capacity. A couple of ways we can do that are we've seen some policy changes around telemedicine, and I think we'll continue to see some policy changes so that it's more accessible, investing in broadband for areas with less broadband so that they can engage in telemedicine services. And finally, looking at licensure requirements and other regulations that prevent us from taking care of 1 patient in 1 state while living in another. We need to overcome some barriers, so we can maximize our health care system and increase our capacity for when we see infectious disease events or other types of disasters that require us to shift the workforce to ensure that people continue with their care.

MH: One other thing that I would add is that with telehealth, we oftentimes have some terrific opportunities for care managers to also message people who are particularly at high risk that they're providing services for on their caseload so that they also hopefully are getting themselves vaccinated against some of these conditions, and also reaching out for assistance early so that they have they can mitigate the impact of these conditions on themselves and their families.

CM: Those population health initiatives are super important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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