There’s no denying that front-line healthcare workers are the pivotal heroes in the COVID-19 crisis, but behind the scenes, IT teams can serve an intricate role in arming healthcare facilities in their emergency response. Though most IT teams have made remote work transitions, they still provide vital aid day and night in the ramp up of crisis response technical support. Part I of this two-part series, will address IT’s role in patient care support during the pandemic, starting with the crisis command center.
Real-time command center Though traditionally used in instances like EHR system transitions or new system upgrades, the IT support command center in many organizations has expanded overnight into the emergency health system command center thanks to its centralized pre-existing rapid deployment procedures and workflow in place for cross-continuum support. In its new role, high-functioning command and control structures must be in place for on-demand response success. Serving as the nucleus of emergency strategy, the command center must combine real-time administrative, clinical and operational data together, ideally portraying advanced dashboard insights for decision-making and predictive modeling. Many of these hubs are helping to monitor, locate and determine the distribution of resources across health systems while assessing aspects like wait times, patient beds, hot spot predictions, flow management or patient safety risks. With IT as the underpinnings of the command center, real-time insights from help desk and IT ticket requests should funnel in to quickly identify system or end-user delays hindering patient care as every minute counts. IT is helping to lead this mission control to move patients through the systems more seamlessly while anticipating their individual care needs.
Virtual care and communication support Across the country with outpatient revenue streams completely halted or limited for some time, telehealth, with recently relaxed industry regulations, stands out as an opportunity for much needed provider cash flow. In the mad rush for response, healthcare organizations are actively relying on IT teams to enhance and rapidly push out telehealth capabilities, while developing and supporting ongoing patient communication tactics spanning remote health monitoring tools, along with call center, website, text chat, email, patient portal and even chatbot assessment messaging. For instance, many health systems’ IT teams have rolled out chatbots to help patient self-assess symptoms to determine if they need to seek drive-thru COVID-19 testing appointments or immediate care, as well as to help with day-to-day patient inquiries like patient portal password resets.
While actively catering to an onslaught of patient support demands, IT teams are also balancing clinicians’ needs, helping with remote access, EHR issue ticket resolution, and teleconferencing troubleshooting and security coverage. Even virtual visit support demand has expanded beyond primary care practices to include the extended care continuum, like physical and occupational therapy. Immediate IT support initiatives are bearing overlooked weight to keep daily care communication actively running, collecting and storing data for continued clinical decision making in this alternative care play.
Even as state or regionalized stay at home orders lift, patients will still rely on these convenient care tools, especially with the threat of a later second wave. With the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians and patients alike look for some sense of stability. IT support actively works to answer that.
Flexibility With the health crisis actively evolving each day, no health system can operate without IT support flexibility. The IT department is the backbone for collecting data for real-time analysis and distribution to keep clinicians, health system leaders, patient communities and public health officials up to date in constantly moving scenarios. All these parties are looking for information they can trust, which rests upon IT teams for gathering and sharing the data insights. IT teams must remain nimble and adaptable in this incredibly changing environment to help clinical leaders better learn from the information at hand.
Stay tuned for part II, which will address IT’s role in aiding post-coronavirus financial strategy for cash-strapped hospitals across the country.
Sheri Stoltenberg is the founder and CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting
Joncé Smith is the vice president of revenue cycle management at Stoltenberg Consulting