How COVID-19 dashboard is fueling engagement across UCSD Health

As CIO of UC San Diego Health, Chris Longhurst, MD, is familiar with the occasional complaint that comes after sending IT announcements to the organization's 20,000 employees. During this pandemic, however, disgruntled emails have been replaced by praise from staff on UCSD Health's coronavirus dashboard, a real-time digital snapshot of easy-to-understand hospital data.

In early April, UC San Diego Health Sciences began sending out a comprehensive COVID-19 dashboard to all its employees. The project, led by Dr. Longhurst and his colleagues, at first was designed specifically to inform UCSD Health's executives and physicians. But after seeing its potential to boost transparency across the health system, CEO Patty Maysent supported making it available to all Health Sciences employees, according to Dr. Longhurst.

Making the dashboard accessible to all staff has helped "to support a real shift in thinking around data and making data-driven decisions," he told Becker's Hospital Review. "The situational awareness of what our health system needs on a day-to-day basis, whether it's PPE, emergency department visits, virtual visits or inpatients with COVID-19, is extraordinary, and available in one view. It's really beyond anything that we've had access to in the past."

The UC San Diego Health Information Services department sends the data dashboard out in a daily email to staff, giving them access to information ranging from the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at the health system, available intensive care unit beds and lab test positivity rates. The key operational metrics are meant to help keep employees current on the evolving situation of the pandemic as well as UCSD Health's response. Staff are also advised not to distribute the information outside of the health system to protect sensitive data. 

The feedback on the dashboard from employees has been "phenomenal," Dr. Longhurst said, adding that every day he even gets a few responses from staff members looking to engage with the data further or contribute new ideas to expand on its capabilities.

"We're sending this email to 20,000 people every day, right? Pretty much every CIO announcement there's someone that complains and replies, 'This isn't relevant to me,'" he said. "I've yet to receive one complaint about [the COVID-19] dashboard. In fact, the only replies I get are stories of either unexpected uses or improvement ideas. Employees appreciate the instant insights."

Extending situational awareness to reach all employees, beyond just the health system's executives and physicians, is an important part of UCSD Health's mission to promote full transparency on data from an analytics standpoint while also building on its care for employees and students from a population health perspective.

While the pandemic has inspired projects like the data dashboard, it has also amplified some of UCSD Health's existing initiatives. In August 2019, UC San Diego became the first University of California campus to integrate its student health services and counseling and psychological services with UCSD Health's EHR system. The integration has strengthened the organization's pandemic response and tracking efforts.

The connection between UCSD Health and UC San Diego Student Health and Well-being allows the organizations to more aptly and rapidly share health records and information belonging to the university's 40,000 students. Having that infrastructure in place has powered the organization's COVID-19 response program "Return to Learn", which is a testing and tracing initiative that aims to allow students to safely resume in-person campus activities in the fall.

"The timing was serendipitous because as we partnered with our university to ensure that our students, staff and faculty are all safe, we've been able to leverage that infrastructure to support bulk ordering, registry-based population health, analytics, self scheduling of testing and even immediate result notifications from the EHR patient portal," Dr. Longhurst said.

UCSD launched the first phase of Return to Learn in May, offering about 5,000 students living on campus voluntary COVID-19 testing to help manage asymptomatic tracking. With orders placed and results posted in the comprehensive Epic EHR platform, the initiative has helped UCSD care for its students not just on an individual basis but for the population as a whole, according to Dr. Longhurst.

Students are expected to participate in SARS-CoV-2 testing upon their arrival to campus, and arrivals will be staggered to ensure adequate laboratory capacity. In the event an individual tests positive, isolation housing will be provided, and contact tracing will be performed in accordance with county health procedures. All students who reside on campus will be expected to participate in daily symptom screening.

UCSD Health is now pursuing implementing a similar initiative to bring its 20,000 employees all on the same EHR system. While the idea had already been on the health system's radar, Dr. Longhurst said it has been accelerated in response to the pandemic as a way to offer COVID-19 testing at no cost to employees.

"We have to be very cautious about some of the privacy implications, and we're addressing that very carefully," he said. "But having our employees as a population in our EHR is going to help us to keep our campus safe and to keep our employees safe, while ensuring the privacy of their medical information. It will support testing and contact tracing, which is really, really important."


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