How has the COVID-19 pandemic altered the strategies of clinical and IT leaders? The simpler question would be, how has it not? From managing an influx of patients to allocating protective equipment to navigating the new (to most) world of telehealth, it’s been a challenge, to say the least.
“It has pretty much disrupted us from top to bottom,” said Brett Oliver, MD, CMIO at Baptist Health, during a recent webinar. Clinicians are being asked to take on new roles, furloughs are in effect, and, across the industry, difficult decisions are being made. “It’s affected the ability to care for patients overall.”
It has also dramatically impacted the speed in which things get done. Projects that normally would take 12 months are being completed within weeks. And as the conveyor belt is cranked higher and higher, it’s putting a lot of pressure on leaders — as well as vendors — to strike the right balance between being agile and being aware of providers’ needs.
It has been, in a word, challenging, according to Oliver, who spoke about the impact COVID-19 has had on providers, along with Stephanie McIntyre, VP of Applications at SCL Health, and Ben Moore, Chief Product Officer at PerfectServe.
“It’s stressful,” noted McIntyre. On the flip side, “We’ve also seen positive impacts when we’ve been pushed out of our traditional lanes. This has allowed us to think differently, to be innovative in places where we need to be, and move to solutions quickly.”
For example, SCL Health, like many organizations, has seen a dramatic increase in the use of telehealth to facilitate continued care without putting providers at risk. And while it has required a significant adjustment for both parties, it has also granted individuals the opportunity to “test their assumptions or question a bias they may have had going in,” she said. “Experience is very important, and in a lot of cases, those experiences have been positive.”
At Baptist Health, a large system based mostly in Kentucky and Indiana, the response has been so positive that Oliver isn’t sure the organization can go back to the way things were. During the pandemic, clinicians have been pushing just as hard as patients have for virtual visits, as it can help save time — something that’s always a commodity.
Agile as the new normal
According to Oliver, one of the key factors in organizations’ ability to ramp up initiatives like telehealth so quickly is the sense of focus leaders have adopted. At Baptist Health, supporting remote work and virtual care was an immediate priority, meaning other projects had to be put on hold. “Instead of doing 30 things over the next year, we’re going to do five,” he said. “We’re going to get them done fast, get them done well, and move on to the next five.”
Another key factor? Partnering closely with vendors to ensure needs are being met, and allowing them the autonomy and time to make tweaks as needed. And with platform usage up by as much as 400 percent, the need for (and volume of) modifications is higher than ever, noted Moore.
“This has really forced us to bring forth capabilities in a rapid way, and forced us to adopt agile methodologies,” he said, particularly given the fact that most of the work is being done remotely. “We have virtual teams working together in chatrooms to develop new products and break down the barriers. That type of environment has fostered a lot of innovation and a lot of creativity.”
Perhaps no area has exacerbated the need for innovation more than scheduling, which has become infinitely more complex as facilities approach surge capacity and providers “repurpose” themselves to help in other areas. The challenge, said McIntyre, goes beyond filling shifts.
“It’s looking at staffing as a whole and trying to predict and understand acuity,” she said. “It’s not, do we have a body in the seat, but, do we have the right body in that seat? Are we setting up clinicians to be successful? This has been a huge focus for us.”
To that end, PerfectServe offers a platform that allows managers to respond quickly to changes, and leverage data to optimize scheduling and ensure they’re providing the maximum amount of care without adding to the burden. “We see this as a tremendous opportunity,” Moore said.
In addition to scheduling, PerfectServe also offers services designed to deliver real-time clinical communication and facilitate care coordination, which are becoming higher priorities as telehealth shifts from a temporary to a long-term strategy. As leaders take that leap — and along with it, face an additional layer of complexity — it’s important to ask, “Is virtual care being done in a way that empowers consumers to make choices independently? Do we have providers who are set up to be successful to respond? How our patients experience us in these moments will last way beyond COVID, and so that has to be on point,” said McIntyre.
To view the archive of this webinar — Physician Burnout Update: Covid-19 Special Edition (Sponsored by PerfectServe) — click here.