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Cleveland's Top Hospital Officials Discuss Pandemic's Effect On Health Care

Two of Cleveland’s top healthcare officials discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected health care at a City Club forum Friday.

MetroHealth President Dr. Akram Boutrous and Cleveland Clinic President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic said the pandemic has rapidly changed how people receive healthcare.

Both CEOs said the number of telehealth visits have increased dramatically, and caregivers are now also conducting in-person house calls as a way to help people avoid going to the hospital and risking exposure to the coronavirus.

"We have also ramped up our capacity to deliver care at home. Knowing that very many of our patients are concerned and scared about coming to the hospitals, we have decided to come to their own homes to deliver the care that they need,” Mihaljevic said.

Boutros added that telehealth visits are like house calls but through video conferencing. “But we're also sending nurses and doctors into people's homes instead of them coming to the hospital,” he said. “We're literally taking care of patients who would normally be hospitalized at MetroHealth at home today.”

Both Boutros and Mihaljevic said the emphasis on telemedicine will continue as the new normal. They said local hospitals have coordinated during the crisis by sharing new data and information with each other each day.

They’re also collaborating to try to address health disparities by ramping up testing in high-risk populations.

Mihaljevic and Boutros both said they’re concerned about an abrupt drop in patients seeking medical care. Boutros said there’s been a decrease in hospitalizations and immunizations during this time.

“We can’t neglect the proven medical interventions of preventive care. I am very concerned, as I’m sure Dr. Mihaljevic is, that we’re likely to have a far worse secondary health crisis due to delays than the coronavirus may have an impact on us.”

They said hospitals have seen a large drop in revenue because of the postponement of elective surgeries during the pandemic.

They also discussed preparedness for future outbreaks. Mihaljevic said there are lessons to be learned from the worldwide response to COVID-19.

“We essentially used the tools from the 14th century to combat the biggest health crisis of the 21st century. The quarantine is a seven-centuries old method of combating infectious disease. We have yet to use on a larger scale the tools from the 21st century,” Mihaljevic said. Modern tools, he said, include digital and analytic technologies.

He also said the U.S. must ramp up its production of personal protective equipment to rely less on other countries during shortages.

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