With the rising toll that the novel coronavirus is taking on the healthcare system everywhere in the world, the impact on healthcare providers is beyond measure. Quality of patient care will be challenged during this COVID-19 pandemic. The efficiency and efficacy of the healthcare system will be put to the test.
Now is not the time for crisis planning and preparedness, because the pandemic is already at hand. Now is the time for the execution of strategies, if you have any, and for the management of resources and staff that will be or are already stretched thin.
In focus here and now, those on the front lines of this pandemic—the healthcare workers, providers, and institutions, they who put duty to care for others above self—deserve all the support they can get, support at least equal to what they give.
The stresses they face at this time, both in their physical and mental health, should be managed, at the very least, if not totally addressed, in our healthcare system that is now overwhelmed. Though patients’ health may come first, health leaders and employers should ensure that caregivers' and providers’ health does not come second.
Proactive and supportive care to providers and caregivers—physically, mentally, and yes, even technologically—should be afforded to them too.
In a beset healthcare system at such a time as this, simplifying care protocols, automating them, is a good way to increase staff efficiency and promote better use of limited resources. “A protocol that defines how patients will be triaged for admission, observation, early discharge, and quarantine is important,” according to the American College of Physicians’ (ACP) Annals of Internal Medicine.
During this pandemic scare, panic-stricken people have rushed the most to two places—supermarkets and hospitals' emergency rooms. ERs are becoming overburdened in this time of pandemic, much worse than when compared to the problems they face in non-pandemic times.
A Carenet Health article cites how in normal times, ERs are already wracked by non-urgent visits due to lack of knowledge and other-care access such as a primary care physicians. That accounts for 80% of adult ER visits, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In pandemic-stricken healthcare, where person-to-person transmission is the clear and present danger, screening of non-urgent cases can be done remotely and not necessarily in an ER setting. A health technology such as a patient engagement platform can very well handle pre-screening and can determine and direct patients to their next steps according to protocols programmed in the platform by providers.
This ER-diversion strategy through the use of technology puts to efficient use the already limited number of personnel engaged in patient care, not only in a time of COVID-19 but on any normal day. At this critical time, such a solution can help allocate healthcare resources to benefit the highest number of patients at the lowest possible stress level for caregivers and providers.
ACP believes that COVID-19 will strain and challenge bed capacity, equipment, and healthcare personnel in U.S. hospitals in ways not previously experienced. According to the Society of Critical Care Medicine, there will be a need during the COVID-19 pandemic to double the 95,000 critical care beds, including surgical and specialty unit beds, that are available in U.S. hospitals today.
Cited in “How Should U.S. Hospitals Prepare for Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19),” as published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is the need for “hospitals [to] prepare now for how they will triage patients, allocate resources, and staff wards.... It may be necessary to use innovative approaches to focus on how best to accommodate the patients likely to benefit the most from care.”
Among the ways suggested in the article is slowing admission rates. This can be done by developing agile ways to engage the patient, for remote screening and monitoring. One example is a text-message-driven symptom checker based on health authorities' (such as the CDC's) guidelines. Another example is a text- or email-message platform that can push helpful resources and information such as FAQs to patients to help them navigate and educate themselves during this time of the pandemic.
Available right now, one easy-to-use tool for population outreach that provides intel for those who are worried is LifeWIRE’s COVID demo project. By texting COVID to 72982, people can access a screener based on CDC guidelines.
The Annals of Internal Medicine article also endorses a strategy that involves a communication system that is integrated into the patient care protocol “to transmit timely and critical information in times of crisis. Crisis communications should ideally occur via several media, such as a telephone hotline, the hospital Web page, social media platforms, or text-based messages.”
And in this communication loop is the whole community of care, because patients and their families are as much in need of actionable information as hospital personnel are. This means relentless communication anytime, anywhere, on any device to engage patients and their families however they want to be reached.
In this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not only the resilience of the healthcare system that will be tested; also on the line is the quality of care and support for every provider. Thus, patient care strategies begin with a fully supported healthcare provider—physically, mentally, and technologically.