As hospitals dealt with the myriad challenges brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was no longer enough to be creative. Leaders had to go into “Apollo 13 mode” and find ways to “duct-tape systems together” to enable clinicians to view data.
Quite literally, in UCHealth’s case. Like many organizations, the 12-hospital system ran into a dilemma when single occupancy rooms were converted into doubles to accommodate a surge in patients. All of a sudden, there were two rooms — along with two ventilator and two vital sign monitors — but just one jack. If a second set of equipment was placed in the room, there was no way for alarms to reach the nurses’ station. That meant having an individual stationed at the door of the room who could check on any alarms and report back to nursing. It was, according to CT Lin, MD, an “incredibly inefficient use of time.”
And so, in true 1960s NASA fashion, UCHealth’s team cobbled together a solution using two tablets and Microsoft Teams’ communications platform. One tablet was set up facing the second vital signs monitor in the room and the other was set up at the nursing station. “Even without the hardware network jacks, we were able to Apollo 13 duct-tape our way into central monitoring,” said Lin, who has served as CMIO for 20-plus years, in a recent webinar.
It’s one example of the incredible efforts that have been put forth during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure providers can access the information they need to care for patients. It’s also an example of the collaboration between health systems and vendors that has paved the way for “transformational change,” noted Lin, who served as a panelist along with Michael Ames, Senior Director for Healthcare and Life Sciences at SADA, and Craig Richardville, Chief Information & Digital Officer at SCL Health.
The discussion focused on how IT organizations were able to pivot from a strategic standpoint, how Covid-19 underscored the difference between vendors and vendor partners, and how the perception of IT may change dramatically in the future.
Innovation in Real Time
Perhaps the most significant pivot for most organizations was the need to quickly and effectively ramp up telehealth. Fortunately, UCHealth already had the platform in place, having partnered with Vidyo to integrate video capabilities into its patient portal from Epic. The true obstacle was a reluctance on the part of physicians to participate in something that wasn’t covered by Medicare, said Lin.
In March, however, the tide turned, and physicians soon started knocking on his door (rather than the other way around) to enable virtual visits. And, because of the “tremendous partnerships” they had established with existing vendors, UCHealth was able to accommodate a drastic uptick, going from 20 video visits per day to around 4,000 in a span of two weeks. It was, according to Lin, the “kick in the pants” that was needed to move the needle.
At SCL Health, an 8-hospital system serving patients throughout Colorado and Montana, it became evident early on that individual regions — and in some cases, facilities — were employing different processes, which meant “the data wasn’t as clean and reliable as we wanted it to be,” said Richardville. And so the organization set up a system-wide incident command center and focused on standardizing processes “so that the data coming in would be distinct and could be used to make decisions.”
With the regions in sync, SCL Health was able to coordinate resources, supplies and medications across different states, and most importantly, act “as a single system,” he noted. “It was a great thing to see.”
It was also able to support the rapid growth of its remote workforce, which tripled in a matter of days. “To have the horsepower to do that was a tribute to our relationships with SADA and Google to help get through the connectivity and virtual aspects,” Richardville added.
Vendors and Partners
Fortunately, SADA, a Google Cloud consultancy, had experience in areas like cloud services and remote work and, as a result, was able to pivot quickly, said Ames. “We talk every day with our customers and partners so that we can have our finger on the pulse. Understanding their needs allowed us to more quickly respond to them.”
It’s a philosophy that is truly appreciated by health IT leaders, noted Richardville. At the beginning of the pandemic, “it was very easy to differentiate between vendors who were providing a commodity-based service and those who were joining forces with you to help get through the crisis. It was eye-opening.”
But while some vendors failed to read the tea leaves and shift priorities to meet the needs of their customers, others viewed it as an opportunity to position themselves as partners, whether it was by offering solutions at no charge (or at a highly discounted rate), or being willing to share best practices, said Ames. The bottom line, he noted, was recognizing the need to “work together to solve a problem for humanity.”
Richardville agreed, noting that he was encouraged to see CIOs from different organizations work together to determine the best course of action. “It’s a national crisis and a community crisis, and it’s been great to see people respond appropriately.”
As the industry moves forward, it will become critical to continue that spirit of collaboration, while also maintaining momentum in areas like digital health, said Richardville. “All of these things that came out of Covid-19 are forcing us to think, what else is possible? What else can we learn from each other to continue to improve access to care and successful provisioning of care across communities?”
Given the right tools – or even the most basic tools – the possibilities are endless.
Click Here to view recording of the webinar.