Information Technology’s Role in the Covid-19 Response
The Covid-19 pandemic created a shift in care to telemedicine for many healthcare organizations. Primary care clinics that were previously scheduling in-office visits had to pivot quickly to seeing 80% of their patients virtually. Information technology’s role was significant in supporting the workflow changes, implementation of software and increased network capacity.
The use of telehealth was not largely adopted prior to Covid-19 because the reimbursement model for telemedicine was lower than that of an in-office visit. The federal and state governments saw the need to keep the public safe when the pandemic began and mandated insurance reimbursements for telehealth to be comparable to in-person visits. These mandates covered patients with private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Many healthcare experts are hopeful that telemedicine will continue to be accepted as a method of providing care for low-acuity needs. Patients and care providers have adopted this technology and have confidence in this method of care delivery.
In Washington State, one healthcare organization has reconfigured their chatbot to assist in triaging patient phone calls related to Covid-19. The chatbot asks patients to answer questions and guides them to the appropriate next step after determining whether they are at risk of having a coronavirus infection. If patients need further care, then they are sent for a virtual visit or other clinically appropriate follow-up. Physicians were quickly trained on the telemedicine software and deployed to manage the large queues of patients waiting to be seen.
IT departments have been tasked with managing an increase in network traffic, which for some facilities has been up to ten times the normal volume. In addition, more staff are working remotely. This has required IT to enable these workers with Virtual Desktops to connect to enterprise IT systems seamlessly with minimal data flow between devices in and outside firewalls. Despite strong endpoint security, this large-scale shift to a virtual workforce also increases the risk for new vulnerabilities and adds to the workload for cyber security staff.
One of our DCS consultants has provided IT support to a major healthcare system on the east coast. She was tasked with developing new build and EMR workflows to support Covid-19. These included:
- Building new testing sites
- Creating Occupational Health referral records
- Pre-configured encounter build to simplify order entry, documentation, specimen collection, label printing, accession and packing list steps to minimize contact between specimen collector and patient
- Routing of lab orders and results from commercial labs
- Result routing to a designated pool
- Additional testing capacity for inpatient staff either within the hospital site or home specimen collection
- Built preference list and smartsets to include Novel Coronovirus and Antibody testing
- Created a one click scheduling method for those in the lab to be able to quickly schedule the patient and obtain a specimen that was done by the employee at home
- Created a report to track Covid-19 patients
- Created bulk ordering for employees who needed testing. This allowed a single click to order numerous tests without having to order one at a time
Technology is playing a crucial role in helping healthcare organizations quickly adapt to new methods of care delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic. The building of new workflows, addition of departments, beds, re-configuring interfaces, and connecting patients and families were all made possible by the hard work and dedication of IT professionals. I want to say THANK YOU to the less noticed heroes of this pandemic, those in Information Technology.
Contributed by: Amy Noel