In Wisconsin, Using Technology to Get Healthcare Workers Back Safely

Sept. 30, 2020
A digital app allows users to complete a short survey to assess their symptoms, exposure, and risk of infection

Nearly half of all workers who were surveyed earlier this year said they are concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 at work, according to a Gallup poll. Meanwhile, in June, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that one in four workers is at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19 if infected.

These statistics are undoubtedly top-of-mind for individuals and their employers across all U.S. sectors as businesses continue to grapple over the best approach to get back to work safely. In healthcare, of course, the consequences of not being proactive and protective enough are severe. This is why leaders at ThedaCare, a  seven-hospital health system serving a community of more than 600,000 residents across northeast and central Wisconsin, last month opted to introduce a solution called “Return to Work," from healthcare technology company b.well, to its team members in an effort to safeguard front-line workers and ensure they check in daily on any COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.

The digital solution, accessed through a smartphone or PC, is designed to transition workers safely back to shared work spaces with new functionality that manages risk and complies with government regulations, according to b.well officials. Users complete a short survey to assess their symptoms, exposure, and risk of infection, and then receive personalized recommendations based on their responses.

Mark Cockley, M.D., chief clinical officer of ThedaCare, says the impetus behind implementing the solution was that while the health system’s hospitals already had processes in place to prevent employees from being exposed, gaps still exist when they’re at home, when their kids are going to school, and when they’re getting together with their families.

“We want to monitor them on a daily basis so that when they have come to work, they have taken a moment to see if they have symptoms or if they have been around someone who has exposed them. You could bring a disease into the hospital or clinic and expose people who are at risk. So it’s about having a process every morning or evening before going to work to say, ‘I am safe to go in,’” he says.

The solution has been deployed to thousands of employees, and the data gets recorded to the b.well platform, allowing health professionals at ThedaCare to monitor it and see how active and engaged users are. If an employee marked down that he or she did display symptoms or was exposed to someone who tested positive, for example, next steps might include accessing a virtual care visit, in-person appointment scheduling, benefits information, mental health resources, and COVID-19 updates and information, including regulatory requirements for their state and directions to the nearest COVID-19 testing centers.

Cockley further speaks to the importance of  daily monitoring, as sometimes the symptoms are subtle, meaning someone might not have any today but could tomorrow, additionally noting there has been an uptick in local community spread over the last few weeks. Indeed, some Wisconsin hospitals are resorting to wait-listing patients, or sending them to other facilities, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Maybe the exposure [to the virus] was five days ago, but only now you are developing symptoms. It’s important to get it in your routine every day,” he contends.

The Return to Work solution is one part of the b.well Connected Health platform being leveraged by ThedaCare, which has rebranded the health management tool under the name “Ripple.” Leaders at ThedaCare say the name for the app illustrates the power of change and the role the platform can have in the health system’s communities. Through this digital experience, individuals—both ThedaCare employees and members of the community—will have the ability to coordinate health information across providers, pharmacies, and healthcare systems. Everyone who downloads Ripple and registers will be able to access their provider and insurance information, manage their medication, and receive alerts and reminders on future care needs, immunizations, and preventative care, officials attest.

Cockley notes that many people on their phones use digital apps and often have separate ones for different medical needs: one for pharmacy, one for insurance, and one for providers, for example. The b.well Connected Health platform, he says, ties those different apps together. “So you can have that one go-to app that goes across your healthcare system and your healthcare experience,” he says.

Ultimately, says Cockley, progress in this area will be measured in a few different ways. For one, he offers, “How many people and employees will get signed up? And how much of the community can ThedaCare provide good information for so that they continue to be engaged? How often are those accounts getting used and what percentage of those accounts get used on a regular basis?”

Cockley and this team will also be looking at how they’re helping people, starting with employees, with their regular health maintenance. The app can be used to remind them to get their blood pressure checked, or to schedule their colonoscopy or flu shot, for instance. “How can we help them lead a healthier life? We are working those elements into this to help determine how effective we are,” he says.

Another area in which progress will be evaluated is patient satisfaction, Cockley states. “Are they getting the information they need, and are they happy with it?” Of course, the cost of care will play a big role in determining success as well. We’re taking care of 7,000 employees and a few hundred thousand people in the community. Are people spending money wisely and getting value for their healthcare dollar? If not, how can we get there? This [platform] allows you to touch people in their healthcare journey more frequently, giving them the information they need when they need it, at their fingertips.”

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