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May 08, 2020 | Tom Ballard

KTech forum spotlights COVID-19 responses of four local healthcare enterprises

The Knoxville Technology Council’s (KTech) latest event featured four Knoxville executives describing ways they and their organizations are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. A couple came from two of the region’s major hospitals – Covenant Health and the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC), with the third coming from TeamHealth and the fourth was Chief Executive Officer of a local biotech company.

As is the case with most of KTech’s virtual events, Wednesday’s “Healthcare Technology During COVID-19” lunchtime session was delivered via the Lunchpool platform to about 55 participants. It included short presentations by the panelists followed by a robust Q&A session.

Eric Mayer of EDP Biotech Corporation, one of the panelists, described himself as “the odd man out; I’m not an IT person. We deal with human healthcare here at EDP.” Subscribers to have read stories about the company’s efforts to bring to market its ColoPlex™ product to detect colorectal cancer at the earliest possible time.

During his comments, Mayer described how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted the company in the short-term while also presenting a new opportunity for the West Knoxville operation and its laboratory.

He explained that EDP Biotech was ready to publish promising results of recent studies on ColoPlex™ at the end of February, but has now “hit the pause button” as it explored how could the knowledge of the company team and its facility serve a higher purpose during the pandemic (see this recent article along with this one from a few weeks later).

“One of the resounding answers (was that) physicians needed to understand the prevalence of the disease (through) antibody testing,” Mayer said, and the company now plans to develop its own test as well as process tests for others. “We are like many small businesses that not only need to survive this but to be a much stronger business going forward.”

The hospital panelists were John Jeffries, UTMC’s Chief Information Security Officer, and Mike Ward, Covenant’s Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. Both described some of the challenges they faced as decisions that had to be made quickly impacted the ability of their staff and physicians to deliver patient services. They also agreed that the new normal will be different from the pre-coronavirus days.

“It’s not going to be the same when it is over,” Jeffries said, adding, “There are a lot of good things (in terms of opportunities) coming from this.”

Ward noted one of those was telemedicine. Covenant had a plan to proliferate telehealth before the COVID-19 pandemic, something that the health system quickly accelerated from 10 physicians to 330 in a matter of a few weeks.

In the month of April, he said there were 8,000 virtual visits that occurred. “We expect it to continue to grow,” Ward added.

The fourth panelist was Jared Meredith, Executive Director of Architecture, Strategy and Governance at TeamHealth. With physicians deployed in 48 states, he touched on a variety of challenges, one being to quickly expand the existing 1,000 Virtual Private Network (VPN) capacity by a factor of four to ensure business continuity.

During the Q&A session, Mayer was asked about how COVID-19 testing might evolve. “Diagnostics will be moving closer to the point of care and in the home,” he said, but quickly said that would not be the case with highly complex diagnostics.

Mayer also noted that are several products like glucometers in the works for home testing.

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