One of the few positives that’s come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is the recognition for the incredible work performed every day by frontline providers. And while it’s encouraging to see physicians, nurses, and others finally get the credit they deserve, the appropriation shouldn’t stop there.
As the industry has undergone dramatic changes over the last few months — including the meteoric rise in telehealth and remote work, and the establishment of pop-up screening sites — IT teams have worked tirelessly to ensure both caregivers and patients can access the services they need. Without directly touching patients, IT departments have played an enormous role throughout the crisis, whether it was helping family members stay in touch with their loved ones, enabling nurses to check on patients without entering a room, or in the case of Yale New Haven Health, setting up a ‘PC factory.’
Like many healthcare organizations — particularly those located near Covid-19 hotspots — the Connecticut-based system faced a major roadblock in converting rooms to ICU-level care: the supply of equipment far outweighed the demand. And so, a group of engineers and analysts began sourcing pieces and parts, and got to work, said Lisa Stump, SVP and CIO, during a recent webinar. And although she wasn’t sure what to expect, the telemedicine and clinical engineering teams “met every need,” enabling YNHH to stay ahead of the curve as the pandemic spread across the tristate area.
“We saved thousands and thousands of pieces of PPE because the staff were able to work in a new way,” she said. “It’s been amazing. There was never a task too big. People were committed to doing what we needed to connect and to protect our patients.”
In the webinar, Stump and fellow panelists Chuck Christian (Vice President of Technology at Franciscan Health) and Colleen Sirhal (Chief Clinical Officer with Hyland) shared stories about how the outbreak has affected their organizations, and lessons they’ve learned along the way.
And although no two experiences have been exactly the same, several common themes emerged, according to the panelists. Below are some highlights from the discussion:
YNHH’s “Focus on a Single Mission”
At Yale New Haven Health, which was “hit very hard and very early” by Covid-19, there was little time to react; by late February, Greenwich Hospital was almost at capacity. In the ensuing weeks, one hospital after another peaked as the pandemic swept through the shore line, which meant beds needed to be added and inpatient units built, as quickly as possible. It also meant ensuring connectivity to the system, which required the IT department to work day and night shifts.
But what really amazed Stump is the innovation that was constantly on display. “We were repurposing anesthesia machines to turn them into ventilators,” she noted. The team also leveraged 3D printers — which were being used by local high schools — to print out splitting devices, and worked with manufacturers to create new ways to monitor ventilators remotely in COVID-positive rooms and change the settings from outside the room. Stump believes “that focus on a single mission to help people in a crisis” has helped lift up the entire organization.
That focus was evident as the organization quickly ramped up telecommuting capabilities, enabling nearly 10,000 employees to work remotely. What made that possible, according to Stump, was having “the right building blocks in place in terms of a virtual private network and virtual desktops,” noted Stump. As a result, the experience has been largely positive, and is expected to be “a deliberate part of our recovery strategy,” she noted. “People are incredibly positive about the opportunity,” she said. “We’re also being very thoughtful about how do we ensure people still get that sense of community and team.”
Franciscan Health’s “New Normal”
At Franciscan Health, a 12-hospital system located in Indiana, creativity has also played a pivotal role in keeping the trains running. For Christian, who has been with the organization about 15 months, the saying, ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste’ has never been so applicable.
One example is what he called “communal rounding,” which enables caregivers to collaborate on a patient’s care without having to “run around and find all the specialists” involved in that individual’s care. Instead, all of the providers were in one room together, which made both the care and discharge processes run much more smoothly.
“This crisis required innovation, collaboration and support from a lot of folks, and we got that,” he said. “It was really nice to everybody step up and do all the things they need to do to take care of their patients.”
Another example of innovation? Helpdesk 1.5, which was specifically created to provide support for remote workers, whose needs differ greatly from what Franciscan’s solution centers typically provide. “We staffed it with technical people who could help with plugging things in, troubleshooting routers and modems and other home connectivity issues,” Christian noted. “That was extremely helpful.”
And it will be going forward, as he believes healthcare is entering a “new normal” when it comes to the work environment. “There are some processes that need to be done on premises, but others that don’t.” And in fact, “a lot of IT functions are being done quite effectively and with more productivity than if they were in the office.”
What will be critical going forward, according to Sirhal, is ensuring leaders have “the training and skillsets” required to manage remote teams. She believes it will require not only “phenomenal partnerships between IT and human resources in developing and supporting policies and procedures,” but a willingness on the part of professional organizations to provide education.
Finally, Sirhal praised the effort put forth by IT leaders and teams, and urged them to continue to collaborate with other departments and organizations, and to keep pushing the industry forward.
“Trust is key,” she said. “Trust your team. Trust your vendor. That’s key. It fuels ingenuity. It fuels great patient care and communication. An organization that values and exemplifies that can survive any crisis.
To view the archive of this webinar — Covid-19 Update: Stories & Lessons From the Front Lines of IT (Sponsored by Hyland Healthcare) — please click here.