A Hospital’s Guide to Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Abhinav Shashank
Thu 02 Apr 2020
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A Pandemic That’s Ahead of Its Time

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has taken the globe by storm. Governments, healthcare professionals, and researchers all over the world are working day and night to address the onslaught of economic repercussions, critical needs of patients surging into provider facilities, and challenges in finding a cure that will work. Existing healthcare resources are overwhelmed, makeshift hospitals are being constructed overnight, providers are tirelessly serving patients, and the masses are scrambling to keep themselves aware, all amid a global health emergency that has defeated time and borders to consume thousands of lives daily. Chaotic, right?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as a new zoonotic (transmitted between animals and people) strain that was discovered in 2019, and it has declared this outbreak a pandemic. Common symptoms of the illness include fever, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, leading to a severe acute respiratory syndrome, which may then lead to respiratory failure and even death.

It takes anywhere from 1 to 14 days for the symptoms to surface from the time of exposure to the virus. This incubation period has defeated multiple prevention strategies around the world, bringing all spheres of life to a halt, except, of course, healthcare organizations.

Grim Statistics of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The virus continues to brutally tear through the population in an exponential fashion, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been declared a national emergency in the United States.

 ➢    As on April 2, 2020, the U.S. has reported over 215,344 coronavirus cases, with 5,112 deaths and 8,878 recoveries. And the numbers are still increasing.

 ➢    Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the epidemic, which may last for months or even a year.

 ➢    The infection is likely to be concentrated in a few areas in the short term but would move unsteadily through many different communities over time. With this shifting migration of the virus throughout the country, it is projected that as many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.

 ➢    Calculations estimate that 2.4 to 21 million people in the United States could require hospitalization, causing our medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds, to crumble under stress.

Is America prepared with sufficient resources, both physical and human, to hold back and avoid these catastrophic statistics?

The ‘Forestalling Approach’ Could Save Lives

Prevention is the key solution that experts around the globe have agreed upon. It is critical for each citizen to become aware of and follow the known prevention measures to thwart this virus and slow down its spread so that the nation’s medical resources and frontline healthcare workers do not become exhausted.

Frequent hand sanitizing and washing, avoiding face touching, and social distancing, are a few of the universally acknowledged public precautions that are strongly recommended for prevention. Although virtual conferencing, remote work and other workarounds have been identified to promote minimal human contact, this silent virus continues to spread exponentially.

How Can the Healthcare Community Come Together and Care as One?

Healthcare professionals are on the battlefront when it comes to this public health emergency. In this hour, it is crucial for us to ensure that the safety and motivation of our providers remain intact in order to save lives. Healthcare stakeholders need to approach the COVID-19 pandemic together, and organizations need to enable the providers with complete patient information for the masses to help them care as one.

Without a complete patient picture, patient-provider communication, medication use and needed prescriptions, referrals for additional services, and follow-up appointments can fall to the wayside causing gaps in care and communication. This, in turn, can lead to poor clinical outcomes and negative patient experiences. In the current situation, the power of unified data alone can expose pre-existing conditions, drug allergies, issues with immune status, and other critical patient details that might affect patients with the COVID-19 virus. It is essential, therefore, that caregivers are able to visualize the complete picture through a unified patient record.

From a preventive standpoint, healthcare organizations need to combine astute planning and the leveraging of available technology to stay on top of this dynamic situation while working to minimize the impact of the virus. Activated data for smart analytics and decision support have the potential to deliver crucial information to care teams, enabling them to provide better healthcare services and to care as one.

We can understand it as a two-fold health management strategy in the setting of a pandemic that will be backed up with technology at each step:

  1.  The primary step for healthcare organizations involves monitoring population health in real-time and identifying at-risk patients with attentive symptom and risk analysis.
  2.  The next step should be to analyze the expected surge in demand and initiate the necessary steps and patient education drives. At each point in this process, physician-patient communication must be made seamless, real-time, and gapless for a timely, coordinated response.

Managing the Surge in Healthcare Demand with Virtual Care

For a large healthcare organization, it should be possible to kick-start a few indispensable initiatives with the ease of a few clicks. In the case of COVID-19, the time bracket of information exchange is critical and has the potential to save people from the ravages of infection.

Amid these circumstances, all care organizations need to enable a series of functionalities to secure the maximum number of healthy patients:

1. Maintain Seamless Patient Engagement via Virtual Care and Telemedicine.

Emergencies can arise at any moment in this environment, so providers and patients need to be supported by seamless communication. Physicians should be able to provide remote consults and leverage live video, audio, and instant messaging to communicate with their patients via telecare whenever possible. By integrating community and lab services on this virtual care platform, hospitals will reduce the burden of not-so-critical cases, allowing providers to address their needs promptly and efficiently from a distance.

Besides sending and receiving appointments, validations, and test requests, providers will be able to schedule bulk SMS/voicemails/emails or a combination of HIPAA-compliant outreach campaigns to patients. A robust communication tool will also be helpful for spreading awareness of new developments and sending out patient education drives.

To ensure prompt decision support based on real-time analysis of a suspected patient’s care journey, it is important for hospitals to keep track of it at every step. In a time-sensitive epidemic scenario, providers must have up-to-date details of all the touchpoints of a patient’s care collated in one place so that necessary interventions can be made promptly.

2. Monitor Population Health with Real-time Analytics for Immediate Care-Related Actions.

Hospitals need an application in place to help healthcare providers stay safe with virtual triaging of patients. CDC-based risk assessments can be sent via mobile phones and enable follow-up for symptom tracking. With the responses being collected and updated in real-time, providers can save precious minutes isolating and providing prompt, lifesaving care to affected patients. Advanced analytics can also predict the hospitalization rate for positive cases at a population level by monitoring pre-existing health conditions and evaluating the impact of risk factors.

By assessing a patient’s risk of contracting the virus as well as the likelihood of it becoming a more severe case once symptoms emerge, the application would also help to triage and filter people who must visit the hospital. This would provide hospitals and clinics with the ability to thwart the crowd of patients seeking non-emergent care to a great extent and help significantly in the efforts toward resource optimization. (Learn more about the Covid-19 Management System.)

Despite large numbers of hospitals and clinics, we will face severe limitations in the number of available in-patient beds, ICUs, isolation wards, and other infrastructural resources. With real-time analytics on the rising number of cases based on the locality, age group, social determinants of health (SDoH) factors, and other variables, accurate estimates on the imminent demands may be made. This will allow hospitals sufficient time to gather and build resources for the upcoming weeks.

3. Enable Patient-Triaging and Screening Algorithms.

In a scenario where the number of patients is likely to overflow the health system’s capability, patient triaging is an essential step for providers to plan their approach. Hospitals and health networks will need to analyze which of their patients are most susceptible to the virus or have pre-existing conditions that will likely require additional care. With automated patient prioritization based on the risk profile, healthcare teams may avoid disruption and have more time to focus on care delivery.

 With further progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people requiring medical care is bound to increase manyfold. Hospitals are already managing a large number of critically ill patients. It is essential that the existing resources and infrastructure are optimally utilized to provide care and save the maximum number of patients. In this scenario, algorithms that assess patient risk can be leveraged to best distribute the available resources and cover care for the maximum number of lives. It will enable smart care planning that helps meet real-time care demands.

The Road Ahead

American healthcare was already working to defeat escalating healthcare costs, now the globe is fighting a grave pandemic. Once we recover, we have a new opportunity to be prepared as a nation. In the future, we will need to share the responsibility of taking the needed precautions, and it will eventually become easier for health organizations to deliver care to us efficiently. Each citizen must recognize their responsibility to stay healthy and consider this a contribution to the healthcare workforce so that our resources can meet the needs of all Americans. Let us emerge from this pandemic safe and healthier as a nation!

To know more about how you can assess patient risk profiles and connect them with virtual care capabilities, try our free COVID-19 Management System.

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Tags: COVID, Coronavirus
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Abhinav Shashank
A Hospital’s Guide to Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic
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