By Rick Halton, vice president, marketing and product, Lumeon.
Since it was first recorded late last year in China, the spread of COVID-19 has accelerated around the world, rapidly creating a global pandemic. The number of new cases is increasing exponentially, putting the western hemisphere in particular on a frightening trajectory, as health systems struggle to battle the virus.
Though billions of individuals around the world are undergoing mandated lockdowns and committing to physical distancing, hospitals continue to be engulfed in an onslaught of COVID-19 patients. One of the most significant impacts of this virus is how rapidly it is overwhelming health systems, consuming critical resources including inpatient beds, intensive care ventilators and importantly, care teams themselves.
Fortunately, technology has incredible potential to help automate and coordinate care communication and tasks. By taking advantage of agile technology platforms, health systems can rapidly deploy new use cases to help deal with the crisis – from early risk identification, screening and patient sign-posting, to helping patients reduce anxiety and self-manage their symptoms.
By leveraging automation, health system leaders can control the curve far more efficiently than ever before. The promise of automation is to ease the COVID-19 burden on staff and resources, giving them the arsenal to fight this disease and ensuring that any future outbreaks never get the chance to evolve from an epidemic to a global pandemic. When it comes to applying automation in the fight against COVID-19, four particular use cases come to mind:
Automated Awareness Campaigns
Tech capabilities that are already prevalent in the public-health sector can also play a critical role in controlling the current pandemic and future outbreaks. For instance, most health systems use Population Health Management (PHM) or Business Intelligence (BI) software that can quickly create and segment cohorts of patients. These solutions can help to identify people and communities at highest risk of COVID-19 complications, based on variables that go beyond the patient’s medical history. Different cohorts with varying degrees of risk can be created, such as the elderly, those with a pre-existing disease including respiratory problems, or those residing in high-risk locations.
Campaigns can then be directed at these cohorts and tailored to address their frequently asked questions or wide-spread myths surrounding COVID-19, as well as advising on how to protect against the virus and self-manage symptoms. Campaigns might also include tips for social distancing or advice about the risk in their specific communities. A critical consideration is how effectively the data can be anonymized with respect to the patient’s consent, along with opt-in/out preferences.
Depending on communication preferences – often found in the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system – email, voice and SMS campaigns can be sent out to each cohort. Using these communication tools while targeting specific cohorts of the community can go a long way toward providing reassurance and preventing panic visits to health centers and hospitals.
Automation technology can also enable more comprehensive screening solutions that proactively assess risk. In this use case, a cohort of vulnerable patients is automatically engaged with a survey that screens for symptoms and, depending on the results from the survey, may then be proactively monitored for the next several weeks. If a patient’s symptoms increase in severity or frequency, they might then be directed to a nearby clinic, with the system automatically generating a list of potential locations based on the patient’s zip code.
This form of automated proactive screening can significantly improve detection of the highly contagious virus and eliminates exposure by allowing doctors to evaluate patients’ symptoms and triage without direct contact. It also limits hospital intake to patients who are most likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, instead of flooding providers unnecessarily and straining limited resources.
Healthcare providers can also tap automated appointment screening programs for patients who have already been referred. For instance, upon receiving a patient referral and prior to their visit, a short screening survey may be sent to the patient’s mobile phone. The automated survey quickly assesses the patient’s risk of having contracted COVID-19 based on their symptoms, recent travel or other potential exposure to the virus. The patient can conveniently respond to each question with a numeric or keyword response, and once complete, the patient receives further information subject to their level of risk and is directed to the appropriate care setting or to a telehealth appointment instead.
Building prescreening into proactive patient outreach is one of the most important approaches hospitals can adopt as they try to contain the virus while safely providing top-level care during the pandemic. As minimizing exposure to the virus is essential now more than ever, health providers need to monitor and address patient symptoms before they even step foot in the hospital.
Automated Sign-Posting to CV19 Treatment Centers
Through prescreening and understanding a patient’s level of risk, patients can then be sign-posted to the most appropriate location to reduce cross-contamination and further spread of the virus. Sign-posting may include, for instance, rescheduling an existing appointment with a different provider or at a different location. The entire process, including identifying alternative appointment slots and proposing them to the patient, should all happen autonomously, with no need for manual intervention from the care team member or a scheduler, unless the patient requests help. Patients might also receive tailored instructions based on any pre-existing medical conditions, their age or their zip code, delivered by commonly used communication channels.
Automated Symptom Tracking
By applying automation to symptom tracking, healthcare providers can empower patients to self-track their symptoms at home while being remotely monitored by the care team. Daily voice or text messages could be sent to the patient, providing them with short surveys that help assess their breathing and disease progression. When certain red flags are set, according to a predefined algorithm, the care team can then promptly call the patient or care giver to assess their situation in detail or automatically direct the patient to a primary care provider.
Automated symptom tracking through daily surveys not only enhances information that is already available on the clinical record, it also helps patients identify symptoms earlier and reduces unnecessary visits that lead to further transmission of the virus.
Automation’s Essential Role
As cases of COVID-19 increase, digital tools that empower healthcare providers to streamline their operations must rise to the occasion. Leveraging a software platform that can integrate with the EHR and allow for rapid deployment of automation logic is a good place to start. With a powerful automation engine in place, new use cases can quickly be created to coordinate the unique care tasks presented by the pandemic. Specifically, health systems should focus on automating repetitive, time consuming clinical and administrative tasks – particularly when it comes to risk stratification, screening, symptom tracking and patient communication overall. Doing so will allow hospital staff to focus on patients who are in a critical condition, all the while reducing transmission, managing capacity, and most importantly, improving patient outcomes.