Young male doctor in telehealth concept

Telehealth amid COVID-19: What Health Care Providers Should Know

By Adriana Krasniansky

COVID-19 stands to be a watershed moment for telehealth adoption within the U.S. healthcare system.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) (part of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS) announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage for over 80 health services, to be delivered over video or audio channels. Additionally, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it would waive potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the emergency. Both measures are designed to enable patients to receive a wider range of health care services remotely, reducing clinical congestion and limiting transmission of the virus. 

In the midst of this emergency situation, health care providers can take measures to consider the ethical and legal aspects of tele-practice as they get started. This article is a short primer to help medical professionals understand telehealth in this moment, navigate regulations and technology practice standards, and choose technologies to support quality patient care. Read More

corridor with hospital beds

3 Human Rights Imperatives for Rationing Care in the Time of Coronavirus

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Ole F. Norheim

Scholarly and official statements and publications regarding human rights during the current pandemic have largely reiterated the important lessons learned from HIV/AIDS, Zika and Ebola, such as: engagement with affected communities; combatting stigma and discrimination; ensuring access for the most vulnerable; accounting for gendered effects; and limiting rights restrictions in the name of public health.

But there is a notable silence as to one of the most critical decisions that almost every society will face during the COVID-19 pandemic: rationing scarce health care resources and access to care.

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pill bottle - buprenorphine / naloxone

Protecting the Vulnerable Substance Use Disorder Population During COVID-19

By Brandon George and Nicolas P. Terry

Introduction

Earlier this month, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse identified those with substance use disorder (SUD) as a particularly vulnerable population during the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted the negative effects of opioid or methamphetamine use on respiratory and pulmonary health in addition to the disproportionate number of those with SUD who are homeless or incarcerated.

We detail the additional challenges faced by the SUD population and, specifically, the opioid use disorder (OUD) sub-group at this time, identify positive ameliorative steps taken by federal, state, and local governments, and recommend additional steps.

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hospital equipment, including heart rate monitor and oxygen monitor functioning at bedside.

The Ethical Allocation of Scarce Resources in the US During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of Bioethics

By Beatrice Brown

Critical resources for handling the COVID-19 pandemic, including ventilators and ICU beds, are quickly becoming scarce in the US as the number and density of infections continue to rise. Leading bioethicists have crafted guidelines for the ethical rationing of these scarce resources during the pandemic. On March 16, The Hastings Center published “Ethical Framework for Health Care Institutions and Guidelines for Institutional Ethics Services Responding to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic,” detailing three ethical duties for health care leaders: 1) duty to plan; 2) duty to safeguard; and 3) duty to guide. The report also contains a compilation of materials on resource and ventilator allocation.

More recently, on March 23, two insightful pieces were published in the New England Journal of Medicine: “The Toughest Triage — Allocating Ventilators in a Pandemic” by Truog, Mitchell, and Daley, and “Fair Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in the Time of Covid-19” by Emanuel et al. These two pieces complement each other well and lay a crucial foundation for the inevitable resource allocation that clinicians and hospitals will be forced to practice in the coming weeks. As such, here, I summarize the central takeaways from these two articles while understanding their recommendations in tandem, as well as reflect on the importance of bioethics during these times of medical crisis and how the work of this field must adapt to changing circumstances. Read More

a covid 19 swab test being inserted into a vile

Protecting our Most Vulnerable Populations in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Sharona Hoffman

A recent news story focused attention on the plight of the elderly during the COVID-19 crisis.  A young woman named Rebecca Mehra heard someone calling her from a car in a grocery store parking lot.  When she approached, an elderly couple told Rebecca that they were afraid to enter the store.   Because they were in their eighties, they were very anxious about exposure to the novel coronavirus.  Rebecca won much praise for doing the couple’s shopping for them.

The elderly are not the only people with special needs during a public health emergency.  Additional vulnerable groups include individuals with disabilities, prisoners, people with language barriers, the impoverished, and others.  Years ago, I spent a sabbatical semester at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Public Health Law Program.  We worried a lot about vulnerable populations in public health emergencies, and I wrote a long article on the topic.  It is critical to plan for the needs of all vulnerable populations while preparing emergency response strategies.

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a crowd of people shuffling through a sidewalk

Lost in the Shuffle: The Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrants in Need

The recommendations for healthy people who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the illness caused by the corona virus called SARS-Co-V2, is to stay at home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids and control fever and body-aches with a non-steroidal medication. For people with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly or those with more serious symptoms, an evaluation by a healthcare provider is warranted. This is a reasonable recommendation given that for most healthy people, the symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. There is a population however, that regardless of the severity of their illness, may stay at home and not seek medical care, even when things are serious. Fear of arrest and deportation is a real issue for undocumented immigrants and calling an ambulance or going to a hospital can put them at risk for these actions. The result is that some very sick people may not seek appropriate medical care. In addition, they may be taken care of by people that don’t have the appropriate personal protection, putting even more people at risk.

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Preemption, Paid Leave, and the Health of America

As the United States continues its response to a seemingly inevitable coronavirus epidemic, experts in law and public health are stressing the importance of supportive social safety nets to ensure an equitable and fair response to the virus’s spread.

If you are one of the nearly two million Americans who works for minimum wage, for much of the service industry, or in the contingent labor force, a situation that forces you to stay home from work – because of illness, or government- or self-imposed quarantine or social distancing measures – could create dire financial circumstances and inhibit measures to mitigate the impact of an infectious disease like COVID-19.

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Vials of medications with syringe and needle.

Is “Implied Consent” Ethically Permissible in WHO’s Malaria Vaccine Pilot Introduction?

By Beatrice Brown

A recent BMJ article has exposed ethical concerns with the informed consent process in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) large, randomized cluster trial of the world’s first licensed malaria vaccine, RTS,S, known as Mosquirix. The study is being conducted in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya, and 720,000 children will receive the vaccine. The vaccine is currently limited to pilot implementation because of residual safety concerns from previous clinical trials, including: a tenfold rate of meningitis in those who received the vaccine versus those who did not, “increased cerebral malaria cases, and a doubling in the risk of death in girls.” Rather than engaging in the traditional informed consent process, the WHO is utilizing an implied consent process, leading several bioethicists, including Charles Weijer, Christine Stabell Benn, and Jonathan Kimmelman, to voice concern.

The WHO has defended their use of implied consent to BMJ on the grounds that “the study is a ‘pilot introduction’ and not a ‘research activity.'” A WHO spokesperson explained that in an implied consent process, “parents are informed of imminent vaccination through social mobilisation and communication, sometimes including letters directly addressed to parents. Subsequently, the physical presence of the child or adolescent, with or without an accompanying parent at the vaccination session, is considered to imply consent.” However, as Weijer rightly points out, this is not truly consent, as “We have no assurance that parents, in fact, received information about the study let alone that they understood it.” After the publication of the original article criticizing the WHO for going against international ethical standards for research involving human participants, the WHO released a response in BMJ and on their own website, contending that this implied consent process is “used for all vaccines provided through the Expanded Programme on Immunization” and that the study is in accordance with international ethical standards. Here, I further explore whether this implied consent process is ethically permissible in this specific trial by exploring the guidelines set out by two organizations.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

Controlling the Novel Coronavirus: Should we have stopped the COVID-19 coronavirus more effectively? Could we still?

By Margaret Battin, Leslie Francis, Jay Jacobson, and Charles Smith

What if, instead of closing airports, shutting down trains and buses, quarantining travelers from China, and enclosing 50 million people inside the city of Wuhan and Hubei province, we had a sophisticated technology that could identify travelers who might spread an emerging infectious disease? This question is not hypothetical. We do have an available technology: polymerase chain reaction (PCR) rapid testing, one among several forms of nucleic acid amplification technology.

But PCR rapid testing has been deployed imperfectly at best, especially in the United States. The initial case of what is thought to have been community transmission in the United States was not tested for several days. The result was preventable exposures to infection of health care workers and potentially others. Testing criteria were set very narrowly. Rapid test kits designed by CDC did not work successfully because of problems with one of the reagents. On February 29, the FDA issued guidance allowing laboratories CLIA-certified for high complexity testing to use tests they had developed and validated before receiving emergency use approval.

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