Spatially Health’s Local Vulnerabilities Map is a dedicated tool designed to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
The global pandemic caused by the spread of COVID-19 has forever shifted life on our planet. The sheer scale of change would be hard to believe if we weren’t all living it in real time. It’s not difficult to imagine the reaction at a family gathering or holiday party in December 2019, with a relative or colleague trying to convince us that in just three months’ time everything would be canceled — no schools or sporting events or even shaking hands; businesses shuttered, airports empty, city centers abandoned and so on. Chances are high we’d politely suggest that person ease up on the cocktails so the rest of us could continue celebrating…
In this new reality, where things can change daily, sometimes hourly, we know one thing for certain: this novel coronavirus doesn’t respect borders or boundaries. In fact, it’s the one constant, unifying denominator of disease spread: geographic concentrations of people form the basis for every other variable relating to rapid human transmission, from age to race to auto-immune response to everything in between. As we continue to widen our breadth of knowledge about COVID-19, certain underlying health conditions and factors have been highlighted by the CDC as tied to high-risk locations for contracting the disease. The first example of this in the U.S. was the assisted care facility in Washington state; regrettably, it signaled a trend that has continued. By pinpointing where vulnerable populations exist, we can then forecast probable rates of transmission, coordinate proactive responses, and minimizing the potential of disease spread.
At Spatially Health, we contextualize location-based intelligence for use in healthcare applications. We believe location data is healthcare data, useful and necessary to promote positive health outcomes. By integrating spatial analysis, we help foster a truly comprehensive view of targeted populations, a concept we refer to as the Human-Spatial Relationship. Our proprietary data models offer a window into proactive, preventive applications for optimizing population health. This includes predicting and scoring concentrations of community risk in a way that reflects levels of vulnerability.
In response to this novel coronavirus, Spatially Health’s data science team has developed a dedicated tool, our COVID-19 Local Vulnerabilities Map, to highlight susceptible geographic segments throughout the country. This map will assist both public and private stakeholder awareness by targeting populations most at risk to the spread of COVID-19. It is regularly updated and free of charge at the Spatially Health website.
Please read on to learn more about the company and how we are positioning ourselves during this unique time.
Learning From the Past
For years, many within the healthcare space have advocated for the accelerated shift toward value-based care. The desire to move away from inefficient fee-for-service models is well-founded: they have proven themselves to be financially bloated by incentivizing overutilization — if you’re paid in volume, it’s easy to take a “doing more is doing better” approach to patient care — and its singular nature is, by definition, not always conducive to optimal patient health. What are the determinants that brought this patient to this point in their life? is a question that doesn’t align with this model, as prevention (also by definition) generally translates to healthier patients and fewer visits to the doctor.
This is not a reflection on the quality of treatment itself — when you require a procedure or operation in the U.S., the best people in the world are available to meet the immediacy of your need — but it is an apt observation about an entirely reactive methodology, one that defaults to suggested maintenance given after any procedure.
As recently as a few years ago, the majority of providers — close to 95% — were receiving payments from fee-for-service models. Stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum agreed on the need to start emphasizing value over maximizing volume, placing quality over quantity, in part because the trajectory of U.S. health spend is simply not sustainable. Slowly but surely, the importance of nonclinical factors, determinants, and social needs have rightly gained more significance over the years in the aim for improved outcomes of patient health. The mindset had, for the most part, coalesced around value-based care as the inevitable paradigm shift needed in U.S. healthcare.
Then the global pandemic happened.
This initial wave has turned everything upside down. Because of the very real danger of community spread, hospitals had to cancel all elective procedures, and providers began hemorrhaging money, with some going as far as laying off staff in the middle of a crisis. On the other end of the spectrum, insurers, now free from paying for all those surgeries and medical appointments, are actually reporting better-than-forecasted returns. And drug companies are scrambling to come up with treatments and vaccines that will potentially save millions of lives while being worth billions of dollars. (It’s not exactly a secret that if anyone has the resources to throw money at a problem, it’s the pharmaceutical industry).
The question becomes this: what happens tomorrow? COVID-19 is now part of our everyday life, our new normal. Stakeholders in healthcare form interdependent relationships and networks that rely on each other for their respective bottom lines, and the devastating nature of the novel coronavirus will force waves of disruption throughout the industry. We need tools to help guide us as we slowly reopen the economy, plan for the reality of months (if not years) before a successful vaccine is developed, and have contingencies in place to handle spikes in outbreaks. It’s a lengthy list and one that is still being written.
We must take the longer view, and consider the most important stakeholders of all: ourselves, our families, our friends. In the most stark terms, the facts are blunt: thousands of people succumbing to COVID-19 means less membership for health plans, fewer drugs to be purchased from pharmaceutical companies, and less elective medical procedures (or any non-essential visits) at hospitals and doctors’ offices. In not-so-mortal but equally stark terms, another figure has emerged: between mid-March and May 1, 2020, American unemployment claims had reached 30 million. Insurers are taking note.
Everyone is affected, and we are all unified around a common goal: prevention.
Adapting to the Present
It’s within the context of this new reality that Spatially Health has developed our COVID-19 Local Vulnerabilities Map. Our proprietary tech aggregates and analyzes multiple data streams and layers atop reliable U.S. Census Bureau data and the latest intel from the CDC, profiling known high-risk factors within populations — measurements such as age, the propensity of chronic disease, demographic density, economic and environmental challenges, and proximity to known high rates of infection (like what we’ve seen at assisted living facilities). These tabulations are presented in an intuitive, interactive format that’s regularly updated on the Spatially Health website.
By scoring levels of risk around the density and demographics of communities across all 50 states, our calculations assist stakeholders to foster more supportive environments and actionable containment strategies as they grapple with the impacts of coronavirus.
As a society forced into crisis mode, our ability to survive, persevere, and eventually flourish is tied to how well we remain agile in adjusting response protocols once new data becomes available. This is challenging. Doctors and frontline workers have been clear about the lack of supplies, yet the constant stream of on-the-ground insight can fluctuate — more ventilators are needed, immediately, or perhaps not if the stats support using them less. The numerous concerns and variance of thought around testing are perhaps the biggest example: While you may be asymptomatic, you should get tested. But you shouldn’t be near others, possibly shedding virus without knowing it, so stay home and don’t get tested — until you feel terrible. Except that doctors are also saying once pneumonia sets in, perhaps weeks after contracting the virus, mortality rates skyrocket. So get tested. Safely. As soon as we have enough. Which might be awhile. (Confused? Overwhelmed? It can seem that way at times because it is that way at times. Remember: we’re all somewhere we’ve never been before.)
As we get the economy reopened in a coordinated manner aligned with maximum public safety, it’s crucial that our planning is built around data-driven methodology. And we must remain agile enough to adapt as new data comes in. Some days it seems that for every great story about how an older drug approved for something non-coronavirus might save lives by shutting down a cytokine storm, there’s another story about young people having strokes due to the coronavirus. We’re all on the same learning curve to one degree or another, always starting with the fundamentals: Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And, whenever possible, help protect the segments of our population most susceptible to contracting COVID-19.
Our imperative at Spatially Health is to stay responsive with our data modeling so that the latest, most informative analytics get efficiently integrated into the scoring algorithms we use to assess vulnerability.
Eyes on the Future
Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This global pandemic has laid bare the efficacy of how plans and contingencies that look good on paper respond when applied to the reality of emergent situations. Some work; others, not so much. And we’ve seen numerous examples of not having a plan at all, and the price paid.
Let’s close out this essay around two final pieces of data:
— The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) considers it likely that this most recent pandemic will last 18 to 24 months. (Other pandemic experts are far less optimistic, to put it mildly.)
— The CDC estimates that treating chronic diseases make up 75% of U.S. health spending. (Those are pre-pandemic numbers.)
The United States has population segments that are highly susceptible to coronavirus, in all its forms, and definitely COVID-19. It has been and will continue to be, catastrophically expensive (emotionally and economically) to treat patients in numbers like the U.S. has experienced in April/May of 2020.
We simply don’t have the “luxury” of being in reactive mode with COVID-19 if we intend to restart our economy, get our kids back in school, and get our workforce safely back to work. We must take preventive measures, adopting a proactive approach to best prepare mitigation strategies for the next wave, ready to prioritize and coordinate the deployment of scarce resources when that wave hits.
Spatially Health has positioned itself to show how proactive thinking and predictive modeling in healthcare applications — what we call addressing the first mile — is more than just common sense prevention or catchy buzzwords tied to the increasing awareness of SDoH. It is, in fact, essential to understanding how people live their lives. Our COVID-19 Local Vulnerabilities Map is a timely extension of this philosophy, an actionable tool for data visualization that’s indicative of how stakeholders can best identify and assist vulnerable communities when it comes to targeted testing, medical needs assessments, or introducing initiatives geared toward awareness and prevention with respect to coronavirus.
In short, the real-time analytics delivered through our map empowers data-driven decision making. We’re arming stakeholders with the knowledge that will forecast trends and find correlations that project the most efficient coordination of services when combating COVID-19. Spatially Health is committed to helping those across the healthcare industry take conceptual strategies and turn them into practical operations.
Our aim is to continue delivering the best analysis and insights that spatial intelligence can provide, keeping us all better prepared to maximize containment strategies and help slow the spread of this global pandemic as it impacts life in the months — and years — to come.