Lessons from the frontline: How 3 health systems are approaching the fight against COVID-19

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems are using clinical communication, telehealth, patient engagement, and provider scheduling platforms to mitigate capacity and staffing challenges while delivering quality patient care. 

During an April 14 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by PerfectServe, leaders from Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health, Greensville, S.C.-based Prisma Health and Knoxville-based University of Tennessee Medical Center discussed their organizations' COVID-19 responses. Julie Mills, RN, senior clinical solutions executive at PerfectServe, moderated the discussion.

In addition to capacity and staffing challenges, healthcare organizations are turning to technology to help address communication issues.

"It's an understatement to say staff need to be on the same page during a public health crisis," Ms. Mills said. PerfectServe has over 20 years of experience building solutions that facilitate efficient care team collaboration. In recent weeks, the company has worked to modify communication workflows and even launched an entirely new solution to best serve customers amid the pandemic.

Patient and family communication using PerfectServe Reach

"We have to make sure people on the front line have the right technology at their fingertips to deliver high quality care no matter the situation," said Brant Sloan, RN, nursing informatics coordinator at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Communicating during a lockdown at the 685-bed hospital can be "stressful to say the least," Mr. Sloan said. Treating non-emergent patients typically seen in person takes more time and hospitalized patients are cut off from their families. As the need for telehealth surged, the hospital launched PerfectServe Reach, a new patient and family texting and video communication solution. Reach can be live within hours, requires no additional software downloads or data exchange, and allows providers to access the solution from a mobile or desktop browser using a dedicated URL. 

Now rolled out to the entire hospital, the direct messaging program reduced the time needed for outreach to patients’ families and allows providers to communicate with patients from anywhere in the hospital. The program can deliver the same message to multiple people at the same time and, aside from basic freeform texting, it also allows for the use of preapproved templates to ensure messaging adheres to organizational standards.

Three-pronged approach

Bon Secours Mercy Health is using a three-pronged approach to route care team communications through PerfectServe during the COVID-19 crisis according to Lana Vandt, RN, systems analyst.

All transfer requests are funneled through the transfer center first, where nurses use secure messages or phone calls to contact leadership about COVID-19 patients. PerfectServe modified permissions and routing rules to increase the number of transfer center staff who can receive incoming requests from hospitals, which were previously delivered to one phone. About 75 nurses were added to the transfer center to handle the traffic increase, and access to the transfer center has led to better, timelier patient care.

The second prong includes a distribution list in PerfectServe for corporate leadership, serving as a restricted group chat where pertinent COVID-19 information can be shared. The third prong utilizes team alerts to send location-specific messages to COVID personnel at facilities across the Bon Secours Mercy Health system while limiting responses to reduce extraneous chatter.

Emergency alert for COVID-19

Emergency responders at Prisma Health, the largest not-for-profit organization in South Carolina, use PerfectServe for patients needing rapid intubation, said Robin Gadd-Lane, RN, manager of digital transformation at Prisma Health. 

Emergency teams at each of Prisma's 14 hospitals use a Medical Emergency Response Intubation Team (MERIT) alert with PerfectServe to improve patient outcomes by allowing teams to respond quickly to patients needing intubation. While data hasn’t been compiled yet, a similar workflow used for STEMI teams cut Prisma’s STEMI response to 15 minutes.

PerfectServe allows Prisma to route one message to the correct group no matter the facility. Each organization can determine who receives certain alerts based on shared phone numbers, broadcast groups, or integrated schedules. If the message isn't read after one minute, a predetermined escalation path delivers the message another way or sends repeat push notifications. Once the message is read, the alert is disarmed. All that’s need to initiate a MERIT alert in the system are the patient's name and MRN, location, and any other additional notes.

The crisis has also increased usage of the clinical communication platform across the board at Prisma, with previously sparse users now relying on it heavily for daily updates and other information. With a large system covering multiple facilities across the state, having one flexible communications system to connect all staff has been invaluable.

"When a crisis like this one arrives, it forces a lot of change upon us in a short time," Ms. Gadd-Lane said. "But we always pull together to meet the challenge, and this one is no different.”

Conclusion

COVID-19 is accelerating the adoption of patient engagement and telehealth solutions and advancing the shift to value-based care. PerfectServe can help organizations 1) respond to emergent situations with effective care team communication, 2) improve patient engagement by communicating relevant COVID-19 updates and instructions via text message, and 3) help facilitate a seamless connection between providers and patients. Its patient engagement platform also has more sophisticated outreach modes that can send automated appointment reminders and prompt patients to call the office before visiting if they have virus symptoms. 

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