The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way healthcare teams operate. Priorities have been upended, resources have been stretched thin and teams are having to find new ways to provide the best care possible for patients. While front line professionals are the face of care during the coronavirus outbreak, healthcare information technology (HIT) leaders have driven the support behind these remarkable individuals to ensure our communities remain safe.

That’s why we decided to interview HIT leaders from across the United States and Canada to learn about how their organizations are responding to COVID-19. During our conversations, these leaders shared their most pressing challenges, advice for colleagues and stories of hope and innovation from the front lines. 

Here are highlights from our first round of interviews, featuring insights from Kerri Webster, Vice President at  Children’s Hospital Colorado, Dr. Brian Patty, CMIO at RUSH University Medical Center and Sandi Rochon, Chief Clinical Integration Officer at NOVO Health.

To date, what has your team done to respond to the COVID-19 crisis?

Kerri Webster, Vice President at Children’s Hospital Colorado

“We were extraordinarily busy, even before the pandemic hit. We started modeling the scenarios, asking, ‘What would happen if this came our way?’ In early March, that was invaluable. 

As it’s come to us, we’ve been instrumental in putting together a situational awareness dashboard, which covers many aspects of the pandemic and how we’re supporting efforts in our hospital and throughout the state. We’re able to give the command center leaders fingertip access to key points that they need to drive decision making to support our team members and patients. 

I’ve had the opportunity to serve as the logistics chief in the command center, and have been able to see firsthand how valuable this analytics and data can be. From measuring the rates across the state, equipment usage, how much we could free up to spare for other community hospitals, impact on team members, turn around times in labs – you name it, we’ve had it at our fingertips.” 

Dr. Brian Patty, CMIO at RUSH University Medical Center

“The biggest thing that we’ve done is really ramp up our virtual care capabilities, from writing new e-visits specific to COVID symptoms and questions, to having a chatbot that triages patients to resources when they call in, to our telemedicine services. We had 20 physicians prior to COVID doing telemedicine; within a week of it hitting RUSH, we trained and provisioned 600 physicians to do telemedicine. 

We initially ran the numbers and looked at high risk patients – those with hypertension, diabetes, cancer, lung disease – and saw how many of them we could switch to televisits, then opened it up to all scheduled routine visits. Also, we’ve been doing a lot of our follow-up activities via telemedicine, remote questionnaires and even text messages to see if symptoms had changed or worsened. If they have, we then send a link to schedule an e-visit or conduct an immediate televisit.” 

Sandi Rochon, Chief Clinical Integration Officer at NOVO Health

“We aren’t doing any cases that aren’t urgent or emergent. All of our providers feel passionate about keeping their patient base, staff and communities safe. The social distancing component helps to decrease the spread, so that was first and foremost. If you’re having surgery performed at an ambulatory surgery center (ASC) and something goes wrong, you need to be transferred to a hospital. We don’t want to set someone up unnecessarily to have a potential risk of being transferred to a hospital that may be at capacity with certain equipment and supplies due to a surge of COVID-19 patients, or one that’s just another environment in which we’re exposing a community member and their family to the virus.

Our traditional doctors’ offices have really looked at anything they can do, such as telehealth, to keep patients out of clinics to reduce traffic and exposure. Additionally, we always clean well, but we’ve added extra sweeps. Usually, you have a cleaning at the end of every day. Now, we do that throughout the day.”

What is the most pressing challenge your team currently faces as you respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Kerri Webster, Vice President at Children’s Hospital Colorado

“That’s a trick question! The unknown. There’s tons and tons of data, and depending on who you ask, you’re going to get different answers. There’s not a playbook. There’s not a road map. We’re pioneering this together. It’s frustrating for people to not know what to do, when to do it and if you’re doing the right things.” 

Dr. Brian Patty, CMIO at RUSH University Medical Center

While it’s been well documented elsewhere, the need for PPE, ICU capacity, ventilators and surge level capacity is real. I also go back to expanding on our virtual care capabilities. Figuring out how to retriage staff to areas where they’re most needed is key. We’re dealing with a whole new set of tools for providers to use when they are seeing a COVID patient, but also all of the virtual care tools to keep the patients who don’t have the corona virus at home, out of the hospital and other risky areas.”

Sandi Rochon, Chief Clinical Integration Officer at NOVO Health

“Making sure that all of the staff is safe. We don’t want to put anyone in danger, but we want to care for our community appropriately. In doing so, we don’t want to be a burden on resources. Those true font line individuals who are in the ER, the ICU and all those hospital environments with active, diagnosed COVID-19 patients need the PPE more than we do. How do we balance what we’re doing with our patients with not consuming resources we should be donating to another environment?” 

As you look ahead to the coming weeks, what is an upcoming challenge your team is preparing for that you anticipate growing in importance?

Kerri Webster, Vice President at Children’s Hospital Colorado

“I think we’re adjusting to a new normal. Life as we know it will be fundamentally changed. It’s changed now, and I think at the end of this things will not go back to the exact way they were. What does that look like? How do we navigate that and make it okay?” 

Dr. Brian Patty, CMIO at RUSH University Medical Center

“It’s all about not letting our guard down too soon. There’s still a majority of the population out there that has not been exposed to the coronavirus. As people start to get back out and stay at home orders become relaxed, we have the potential to see a second wave of infections.”

Sandi Rochon, Chief Clinical Integration Officer at NOVO Health

“Changing practice patterns to accommodate telehealth. In an environment like our Neurospine or cardiac teams, you really need to do that physical exam to understand things like if nerves are compromised, whether or not there’s muscle damage, do an EKG or listen to a heart rhythm. How do we migrate and balance that?” 

What advice do you have for your colleagues who may not be as far along in their preparation and coordinated response?

Kerri Webster, Vice President at Children’s Hospital Colorado

“It’s okay. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Take care of yourself and each other.” 

Dr. Brian Patty, CMIO at RUSH University Medical Center

“Ramp up your virtual visit capabilities to decrease exposure to both patients and staff! The other thing is preparing to restrict access in your hospitals. For example, decreasing the number of entry points so you can screen people for fevers. On the flip side, it’s time to think about expanding communication capabilities for your patients. Stock up on tablets. Allow those patients who have COVID-19 and are now in isolation to have video visits with their loved ones from their hospital bed. It also helps to decrease the level of exposure to your staff through virtual rounds. This limits room to room visits and the need for PPE.”

Sandi Rochon, Chief Clinical Integration Officer at NOVO Health

“First and foremost, it’s communication. You need to establish the communication mechanism that you’re going to have with your providers, team and community, and make sure that it’s consistent. 

Every morning, whether they’re working from home or not, we have a 7:30 am team call for updates. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and those individuals are talking to other community members. There are a lot of employers in this area that aren’t really communicating to their employees, so the only information that those individuals are receiving are the news and sound bites that are all politically-based.

The masking, social distancing and other guidelines that have gotten us to this point as we flatten the curve were so important. But, without appropriate communication, I don’t know if we would be here yet.”

Can you tell us a story about someone making a difference in your organization or an innovative idea that has grown out of the challenges your team has faced in the past few weeks?

Kerri Webster, Vice President at Children’s Hospital Colorado

“We have a Child Life team who have done some amazing sidewalk art for us. They’ve drawn dozens of messages outside of the building to make those coming and going feel like they were making a difference for the kids in our community . That was so special. When you’re tired, you’ve been in the hospital for 14 hours and you’re leaving, that just makes you smile.” 

Dr. Brian Patty, CMIO at RUSH University Medical Center

“The overall sense of teamwork across the organization has turned up to the nth degree. People are stepping up and saying, ‘What can I do to be of assistance to the organization and help our patients?’ It’s amazing to see how our system has grown closer through this situation.” 

Sandi Rochon, Chief Clinical Integration Officer at NOVO Health

“One of the nurse practitioners that used to work here, who is just a phenomenal, giving personality, is actually in the Bronx, New York right now. She’s volunteering at a COVID clinic. That’s what we do the best; we take care of each other. 

Even on the smaller side, one of my nurses here at the clinic is not working due to our lack of volume right now, but she started making washable, reusable masks out of fabric. She’s asking for donations for materials, she’s sewing her heart out and just giving them all away. 

The energy and the perspective that everybody has been providing each other has been heartwarming.” 

Coming Up Next

Thank you to all of the HIT leaders who took time out of their busy schedules to speak with us about their efforts to support the front lines during COVID-19. Stay tuned for the next installment of our series as we investigate the pandemic response from Canadian leadership. 

As your team formulates their response to today’s changing healthcare environment, Alidade Group is ready to help. Our experienced consultants are available to assist with enhancing your systems and workflows to meet your evolving needs.. If you’re looking for a partner to help meet these challenges, contact our team at https://alidadegroup.com/contact-us/.