Health IT Vendors Required to Innovate Rapidly With Their Customers

April 7, 2020
Patient engagement tools tailored for COVID-19 response in high demand

As rapidly as health systems have had to innovate to prepare for the surge of COVID-19 patients, they have had to rely on many of the health IT vendors they work with to be just as flexible, modifying or deploying new tools much faster than usual. 

The collaboration with big EHR vendors such as Epic and Cerner is central to many hospitals’ response efforts. But smaller niche vendors and community health partners are working on rapid response as well. For instance, Physicians of Southwest Washington, a 550-physician independent physician association based in Olympia, Wash., had been working with a vendor called Innovacer on a population health platform to support its value-based care arrangements. Then Washington state became the first epicenter of the crisis in the United States. 

“Within just a few days, Innovacer was able to produce some COVID-19 dashboards that allow us to identify those patients at highest risk of COVID-19 among our population,” said Tamra Ruymann, chief of digital health at Physicians of Southwest Washington. “Our care management team has really focused in on that high-risk set of patients and has started doing outreach to the highest risk – those with four or more co-morbidities. We are contacting them and asking what services they need. We want to keep them in the home, so they don’t have to go out and get prescriptions filled, for instance.”

The Innovacer platform has a COVID-19 Assistant App that allows for virtual triaging of patients with CDC-based risk assessments sent via mobile phones and follow up for symptom tracking. “As long as patients have a smartphone, the physicians are able to do the virtual visit with them without any setup or headaches or walking them through downloading apps,” Ruymann said. Innovacer has made it easy for the docs, who don’t have time to research these telehealth platforms. Many independent practices were not set up to do virtual health. We are moving to a different way of practicing medicine. They were not prepared or looking for platforms. Innovacer came up with a solution quickly and easily. It was amazing how quick it was. You are going to see the need for this in other states, in the same way we need it now.” 

Getting the message out

In another example, Cook County Health, the safety net provider for Chicago and suburban Cook County, was in the process of working with messaging solution vendor Luma Health on new ways to use text messaging with patients when COVID-19 cases began appearing in Chicago. “There were a few approaches our organization was looking at in terms of the way we reach out to our patients, which is why we had targeted Luma to begin with,” explained Adam Weber, director of clinical ancillary applications at Cook County Health. “When the pandemic hit, we realized we had to do it right away. There is not time for a four to six-week project. We have to get this going tomorrow.”

Cook County Health partnered with Luma Health to design messages for different targeted groups of its patient population. “For people who have regular appointments, we could reach out to 8,000 to 10,000 patients and let them know at once not to come to the hospital or clinic, and that we would be reaching out to them and doing telehealth visits with them at their normally scheduled time,” Weber said. “We have seen a 94 percent success rate with the SMS version, but we are also able to reach them via e-mail, and if not, it falls back to a phone call. We also are able to support multiple languages. I don’t know how we would have gotten this messaging out without a tool like this.”

“We also have been leveraging Luma in our employee health effort. When an employee thinks they have to be out from work or has symptoms, or are concerned about their health, they can take this online survey through Luma,” Weber said. “Once they have completed the survey they will get their drive-through testing done on site. Then we will give them a series of messages based on their results. This has really helped our employee health group, which has just been swamped with calls from employees, who are concerned about their health and potential exposure. It helps us give the messaging we want to give employees and takes the burden off of our employee health department.”

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