Hospitals try to apply lessons learned during the COVID-19 response
- Post-COVID-19, hospitals plan to continue innovations developed in response to the pandemic, including virtual health and closer relationships with employers.
- One health system will use a modified version of its crisis management team to find continuing opportunities for improvements.
- An employee newsletter created at the same health system will continue due to employee demand.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, hospitals and health system leaders already are trying to apply lessons derived from their responses.
An obvious lesson for many is the desire of patients for more treatment location options.
The explosion of virtual care, home care and other nonhospital options as patients have shied away from going to the hospital during the pandemic has led some organizations to try to retain and expand on those options going forward.
“We had it in place; it just grew [during the pandemic] and now has that much more emphasis,” Tim Allen, CEO of St. Anne & Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center, part of the Ochsner Health System in Louisiana, said about his organization’s nonhospital treatment options.
His and others’ comments came during the annual meeting of the patient safety organization Leapfrog Group.
Allen also said his organization hopes expanded relationships with local companies will fuel more direct-to-employer contracts after the pandemic. The hospital developed relationships with many area employers while collaborating on strategies to reduce COVID-19 transmission among workers and customers.
Jackson Health System in Miami plans to continue expanding its data and analytics efforts after finding during the pandemic that those tools accelerated delivery of test results and analyses to clinicians, while also providing predictive modeling that factored in comorbidities for specific patients, said Isis Zambrana, RN, chief quality officer.
“We found it powerful to focus on leveraging data for decision-making,” Zambrana said.
Accelerating efficiency and bolstering resiliency
UCLA Health hopes to retain some version of the streamlined decision-making provided by the health system’s “command center” crisis-management team. To effectively respond to crises, the team necessarily is “a military hierarchy; there’s really no democracy. Things are nimble and agile because you generally have a single person calling all of the shots,” said Robert Cherry, MD, chief medical and quality officer.
The health system aims to retain the decision-making momentum of the crisis team by setting aside the first hours of each working day for team members to meet on an ongoing basis.
“This is the time where we’re going to be dedicated to organizational efficiency,” Cherry said. “Now we have all of this information that flows up and we’re able to use very nimble decision-making early in the day that impacts operational efficiency.”
St. Anne & Chabert Medical Center aims to retain and expand the resiliency program it developed for staff during the pandemic, in order to address ongoing stress and exhaustion challenges, Allen said.
Among the resiliency initiatives for staff that Jackson Health System undertook was having spiritual leaders record hour-long sessions for employees to watch when they had time, Zambrana said.
UCLA Health is reinstating a staff newsletter that was established during earlier waves of the pandemic. The newsletter provided daily detailed updates on the various pandemic responses of the organization.
“I never really realized it until we started scaling those communications down in the last few months, but people were really forward to getting that tangible information that told them, ‘What is it that I need to do today or tomorrow to keep myself safe, my colleagues safe, to make sure my patients are well-taken care of and that we’re actually serving our community?’” Cherry said. “It tamped down anxiety and made people feel much better about coming to work and feeling comfortable about what they did.”
The daily newsletter, overseen by Cherry and the organization’s chief nursing officer, was scaled back after the earlier COVID-19 patient waves abated because it required extensive work by “nearly two-dozen people.” But the employee requests led them to reinstate it with a weekly publication schedule.
Reflecting on that experience, he urged other hospitals and health systems to “communicate and overcommunicate” with staff about organizational responses to challenges.
“Not just because you have to give necessary information to people, but it also makes them feel healthier, more productive and engaged as a member of your larger workforce,” Cherry said.