Opinion

America risks never overcoming COVID-19

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The latest phase of the pandemic is setting the U.S. up for a long, hard winter if action is not taken, and quickly. As the country struggles to combat the new, more aggressive and fatal COVID-19 delta variant, the race to inoculate vaccine-hesitant Americans has proved daunting. With vaccines seen as the most effective way to prevent serious illness and protect hospitals from overcrowding, country-wide vaccinations should be a priority. We have reached the moment when the U.S. needs to learn from other countries on how to handle this crisis. The pandemic must be the wake-up call that will save future American lives. 

What needs to be done? There is no silver bullet, but one effective route would be for the U.S. to create a federal digital healthcare system that would be called upon in times of national crisis. This structure would allow for multiple HMOs and Private Health Insurers to maintain individual client or patient records, yet certain elements of this data would feed into one central system to help the greater good. With the data in one place, the nation would be better equipped when hit by a national health crisis.

Such digitization of healthcare seen in countries like Israel, has helped to bolster vaccination rates, keeping control over this pandemic, and consequently allowing the country to prepare for a better future of healthcare.

Years ago, the U.S. began the process of digitization within hospital systems, but it stopped short of networking into a national database. The lack of such digitalization, nationally, has not allowed the inoculation process to roll out efficiently, by voicing accurate information nationwide, improving communications with the Americans and gathering real-time data on adherence, compliance, side effects and any complications.

As an example of how a nationalized data ecosystem can be of immense benefit, Israel’s vaccine effort and database have had instant results. Soon after the vaccines were approved, Israel’s HMOs were able to use one single, national app to directly connect with each individual, allow scheduling of vaccine appointments, conduct regular check-ins with its citizens, monitor vaccine side effects, share information based on personal needs, obtain data, and send alerts and reminders. This enabled Israel to quickly assess the immediate needs, draw conclusions and efficiently implement country-wide solutions. 

In the future, this is how the world will run global medical collaborations, clinical trials, share real time lifesaving medical data, and deploy treatments — using interoperable data driven platforms, AI and machine learning.

As of Aug. 31, 2021, Israel has vaccinated its population far quicker and more efficiently compared to the U.S., where inoculation rates widely vary between states and go as high a 67.9 percent in Vermont to 37.7 percent in Mississippi. Israel has also already vaccinated about 1.7 million citizens with the booster vaccine, way before any other country in the world, all without making it mandatory for citizens to get vaccinated. In 2019, just to name one example, a $300 million investment allowed researchers and physicians to use the anonymized data to begin sleuthing the causes of diseases and decide on effective preventative actions, screenings and treatments.

The Israeli government has implemented a social healthcare system that is not shared in the U.S., prioritizing national-level solutions as opposed to deferring crises to individual states. It was wrong to leave decision making to individual states, as opposed to a top-down federal approach. While a national state of emergency was declared for this pandemic, the federal government didn’t use the opportunity to its full potential. Thinking back to the 9/11 attacks as we approach the 20th anniversary, this is exactly what was done with the passage of the Patriot Act, which had a stated goal of dramatically tightening U.S. national security. The COVID-19 pandemic is not less of a threat to the American nation. While some Americans may be leery of Israel’s government-heavy and digital approach to this crisis, it is important to consider that having pertinent information readily available can be a matter of life and death. I’m confident this federal system would be able to store data securely, protecting people’s privacy.

The pandemic will never end unless a national solution is implemented or until an extremely effective treatment is found. The nation will be left in limbo as each state relies on the status of the other. Despite the difference in population, the U.S. is more equipped than any country to mobilize its resources to defeat this virus. That is the greatness of America. Now it is time to unite, and act.

Sigal Atzmon is the Founder and CEO of Medix Global, a shared value, data-driven health management company that serves millions of patients in 90 different countries.