CATES: Healthcare advances in difficult year

I always like the “year in review” specials and the like that come out the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The years always seem to be so short these days, but when you are able to look back at the year as a whole, it’s pretty amazing all the different things that happened in that short year. I know this year feels like it has been nothing but COVID, but we have still made some advances in healthcare in the last year. Much of that largely as a response to COVID, but we have still had some really good things happen in healthcare this year.
There is no question, healthcare in 2020 has been dominated by the COVID pandemic. The numbers are staggering. 78.3 million cases world-wide Remember that is people with known positives from testing—which means the actual number of cases is far, far higher. I speak to people on a regular basis who decided not to get tested because they were sick when a family member was sick with the same symptoms and the family member was positive, so they didn’t bother with a test. I have talked to several others who for one reason or another received an antibody test—which tells them they had COVID at some point, but they tell me they never had any symptoms. 1.72 million people have died. That number is so big, it’s hard to put into any scale that makes sense. That is basically the entire population of Odessa times 10. The tragedy of this is hard to even fathom at times.
But there have been some good things that have happened because of COVID. Telemedicine is the first one that comes to mind. COVID forced telemedicine to advance and advance quickly. Providers all over the country were forced to find HIPPA compliant ways to connect with patients that didn’t necessarily mean an in person appointment, so we could try to limit the spread of COVID. Big IT companies really responded and came up with solutions like Zoom, Skype, and Teams, all with easier access on mobile devices and better security to protect data. One of my friends is a nurse practitioner in a very small town off I-35 between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. She is the only health care provider for about 40 miles in any direction where she runs an emergency clinic. She is so excited about the possibilities telemedicine has to offer. She can reach out and check on her patients who struggle to even get to her clinic because they are so isolated. She can reach out to physicians and other health care providers to provide better care to her patients. Those advances were in process, but 2020 forced a big leap forward, and that is going to benefit patients and providers in a big way.
Emergency planning is another thing that has come a long way in 2020 in healthcare. Texas set up the RAC systems to help manage trauma, strokes, heart attacks, and many other conditions from a regional and state level way back in the 90’s, and it has been such a step forward for this state in our response to COVID. But even with our advantages with the RAC system, we have learned so much about our true capabilities beyond something very localized like a fire or even a tornado. We have at least 250 supplementary health care workers here in the Basin, something that would have never been possible without the RAC system and a very coordinated response from the front-line healthcare workers all the way to the governor, and I know something we had never practiced for real—maybe somewhere on a table top, but never at this scale in a drill. Yet it all worked—and we learned so much about how to do this better in the future. One of the things I treasure the most about this situation is the way that the two hospitals here in Odessa are working hand in hand as partners to support this community. I have respected Christin Abbott-Timmons, the CNO at MCH for years as a colleague, now she is a confidant, a support system, and a friend. While I would happily not have ever had the pandemic, I would not change the relationship the entire healthcare community has built in Ector County because we’ve struggled through this together. Our emergency management folks, and always our first responders in Odessa Fire Rescue, Odessa Police Department, and the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, the health department and the city and county governments. You are all such treasures and I hope our relationships always stay as strong as they are today.
Finally, the COVID vaccine. mRNA technology is amazing stuff. That technology uses the same molecules our cells use to deliver messages to each other about all sorts of processes. But we’re using those molecules to deliver drugs, or in this case, a vaccine, to very specific cells in the body. The technology has been around for about a decade now, but that it has been used to find the right protein on a COVID virus cell that is not prone to mutation, and then get it delivered to the immune system so it develops a response is almost a miracle. Add to that it is being produced and distributed in massive quantities makes this vaccine a pretty spectacular feat. It is truly the light at the end of the tunnel. Because of that technology and ones like it, we have a shot at things like cures for cancer. If this does lead to those kinds of advances in medicine, 2020 seems a whole lot better.
Have a Happy New Year, and as always, please stay safe.