Now more than ever, we look to our government leaders and healthcare workers for new information each day. Dr. Sunil Budhrani, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Innovation Health and professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University, shares his insights on some of the most pressing issues today.

Budhrani’s background and training are in emergency medicine, and he spent the early years of his career running emergency rooms all around the East Coast, before coming back to the DC area in the early 2000s. 

Now, he is CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Innovation Health, the joint venture between CVS Health/Aetna and Inova Health System – a health insurance carrier for the Northern Virginia, Maryland, DC region. At GW, he works very closely with the health system, primarily in emergency rooms in the DC area to take care of patients that are coming in these days.

But it’s not just in emergency rooms that people are dealing with health issues – both physical and mental health can be compromised during this time while at home.

“We have seen, in the healthcare industry, anywhere from 30 to 50% increase in folks needing some kind of mental health intervention. That could be talking to somebody, a prescription, or dealing with stress and looking for services that deal with mindfulness.” The cause of this? The abrupt and quick change in people’s lifestyles and how they deal with things around them.

However, Budhrani explains that there are simple things we can do “to try to bring some structure in a somewhat chaotic world” right now:

First, actually create a schedule for yourself to form structure. Separate and have designated times for work and free time, for yourself and for your family.

As for personal time, Budhrani encourages the following activities to maintain both physical and mental mindfulness:

  • Going for a walk
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Yoga/meditation
  • Being socially connected (Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout)
  • Exercising
  • Having a proper diet

Although he also praises taking advantage of going outside to exercise, Budhrani says that many people are still not following physical distancing orders. “I’ve seen a significant number of people out and about. It will become critical for us to follow the social engagement rules to make sure we’re physically distancing ourselves – not socially distancing.”

As to the virus, he says that this is a marathon, not a sprint. “We have to understand and be prepared that there will be a continued, second wave of the disease. We shouldn’t be thinking that it will go away miraculously, and we’ll be back to normal in the fall.” Individuals (and organizations) should be learning how to manage themselves to be better prepared next time.

Budhrani has identified three main things that health officials need to see in order for stay-at-home orders to be lifted.

1. There should be a downward trend of COVID-19 cases for about 14 days

As of right now, he says that there are about 63,000 cases in the DMV, with Virginia accounting for about 23,000 of those cases. Currently, there are between 200-1,000 new cases a day.

2. Contact tracing

This refers to being able to trace people that have come in contact with COVID-19-positive individuals. Budhrani explains that this can be accomplished through intense care coordination and digital technologies to identify positive individuals and make sure they are safely isolated along with their contacts.

3. Environmental restructuring

“The workplace needs to be looked at very differently than it was in the past,” says Budhrani. Some examples include using tape in workplaces to outline personal areas and increasing cleanliness at work.

Budhrani also encourages the current use of telehealth for patients. Telehealth consists of using some form of technology (telephonic or video) to be able to access any provider, such as a doctor, to be able to get a condition addressed and sometimes get a prescription without having to go to a clinic in person.

If these precautions are followed, the stay-at-home order may be lifted sooner to a safer return to normalcy. In our region thus far, we still need to see a continuous decline of cases as we consider this.

Finally, Budhrani praises first responders. “When we talk about first responders, we often think about folks like ER doctors, nurses, people that are just kind of in the hospital setting,” he says. “And it’s important to recognize that first responders are all those delivering things to homes, folks that are working in stores making sure people have food, firefighters, policemen, technicians, whether they’re respiratory, lab technicians, pharmacists, and really recognize how much they’re contributing to keeping society functioning right now.”

He is inspired by the sacrifices that frontline workers make each day. “I see ER workers come in regularly and gear up from head to toe with two layers of clothing, two masks, gloves, and work a 10-hour shift.” 

He explains that if one part of what he mentioned doesn’t happen, it affects everything else. “We hear this phrase used all the time these days, but I can’t think of a better one: We are in this together.”

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