Three focus areas for health system innovation leaders in the face of COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to spread, health systems are racing to ramp up their innovation efforts. Last week, MATTER hosted a virtual roundtable with innovation leaders from a dozen health systems so they could share what they are learning and doing to help their communities address the pandemic. The discussion included leaders from around the country — including New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Ohio, Tampa Bay and the Chicago area — all areas experiencing significant disruption as a result of the pandemic, albeit at different points along the curve.

Following are three key areas where health system innovation leaders are focusing.

1. Keeping people who don’t need to be in the hospital out of the hospital.

Reducing interactions between patients and staff and freeing up valuable hospital space for the wave of COVID-19 cases is a priority.

Digitally enabled triage
A significant number of health worker cases are likely due to people coming to the hospital for other reasons, so in addition to screening people with possible symptoms of COVID-19, it is critical to screen anyone who is coming to the hospital — before they get there. Many hospitals have rolled out digital screening tools such as Clearstep, which leads people through a symptom checker that they can complete on their own before seeking care. The tools then helps direct patients to the appropriate type and site of care.

Virtual visits
While many innovation team projects have been paused, the pandemic has accelerated the deployment of some solutions that innovation teams have been pushing for years, such as telehealth. One system shared that in less than two weeks they have scaled their virtual visits from almost nothing to around 2,000 synchronous virtual visits per day. One side benefit: They have gotten new patients into their system as they identify people without primary care providers who are calling in with COVID-19 symptoms.

A number of startups have rolled out platforms to help systems enhance the experience of virtual visits, including TapCloud, which responded to the need for remote visits by deploying their Secure Video Visit capability for existing clients – adding 4,000 users in just 4 days. On top of that, TapCloud is offering a comprehensive resource for remote patient and employee management during both times of crisis and normalcy.

Remote monitoring
Remote monitoring tools use technology to monitor and track patients’ health. Solutions can be used at home, to keep people away from the hospital, or inside the hospital to reduce the frequency of interactions needed between staff and patients. Some providers are using remote monitoring to watch people from home who are showing only mild symptoms of COVID-19, and notifying them when they should seek care if their condition worsens. Hospitals are also using remote monitoring tools to keep patients connected with their providers while remaining at home where they face less risk.

Many startups with remote monitoring solutions are tailoring and repurposing their existing technologies for this pandemic. Dina, an artificial intelligence-powered care coordination platform that normally services hospitals and plans care for seniors, is now offering remote monitoring, quarantine management, patient self-assessment and screening capabilities to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Another example is PhysIQ, whose proprietary, personalized analytics system, pinpointIQ, has been sanctioned for COVID-19 care by the FDA. pinpointIQ may be used to provide continuous physiologic remote monitoring to homebound or quarantined patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, or those who might require continuous monitoring due to high-risk profiles like heart failure, COPD or hypertension.

2. Addressing the shortage of PPE.

The most pressing challenge health systems are facing is the shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers. To address the shortage of supplies, hospitals have employed a variety of tactics, from crowdsourcing supplies to fabricating their own PPE.

Crowdsourcing supplies
Seamstresses, entrepreneurs, construction sites, nail salons, medical schools and many others are donating equipment or rapidly spinning up production of needed supplies to help fill the resource gaps. Though these efforts have enabled more healthcare workers to have some level of protection, there are legitimate concerns about relying on this crowdsourcing model — from scalability to questions about quality.

Predictive modeling
Health systems are also employing their analytics teams to build out predictive modeling tools for supply chain management — including tracking beds, ventilators, medications and PPE, as well as forecasting resource needs as the virus spreads and patient load increases. Systems have been rolling out new technologies and leveraging community resources and partnerships to address this shortage of equipment, workforce and other resources.

Creative manufacturing
Hospitals have also partnered with larger companies to address shortages: One health system shared that they recently partnered with a local distillery to help replenish their supply of hand sanitizer. Another is looking into ways to partner with the government to conduct research on a ventilator-associated decision support tool that could be shared with any health system that needs it. Another system even shared they are working on 3D-printing their own face shields in the absence of a reliable supply.

3. Supporting the healthcare workforce at work and at home.

Keeping staff safe
One health system in New York shared that 20 percent of their workforce is quarantined and they expect that number to rise significantly, and possibly even double. To help ensure that staff and others aren’t spreading the virus unknowingly, one hospital shared how they’re using cameras, instead of temporal thermometers, to check the temperature of everyone who walks into their building in real time. People don’t even need to slow down, and the system will flag anyone with a fever.

Clinical pathways
Health systems are also exploring the ways that technology can help healthcare professionals operate more safely and efficiently. University of Chicago Medicine is working with AgileMD to develop and embed COVID-19 clinical pathways into their electronic health records. With the system, doctors, nurses and staff know what the right workflow looks like for different situations, and the tool ties directly into their medication and diagnostic ordering systems.

Mental health and stress management
When one health system announced a new innovation challenge to source solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic, they were surprised at the submissions they received: Most were centered around reducing anxiety and stress for healthcare workers. Based on these submissions, the system spun out a mental health hotline solely to address their workers’ concerns and anxiety.

One startup, OPTT, is offering healthcare providers the use of their digital mental health platform for free for the next six months. OPTT’s tools enable mental health provider teams to add digital cognitive behavioral therapy to their services as an alternative, asynchronous time-saving solution or in combination with their current video or in-person service.

Other health systems are working to support their healthcare workers by coordinating childcare, providing video visits with dogs and therapy animals while in the hospital and providing music therapy.

Innovation teams are not on the front lines in the way that ER doctors are, but they are playing critical roles in helping their organizations identify and implement novel solutions to the biggest challenge most hospitals have ever experienced — and the coming weeks will be critical. MATTER intends to continue convening groups of innovation leaders — as well as others within health systems — to help them share, learn and respond to this pandemic. I’ll share more of what we learn as this pandemic progresses. In the meantime, stay safe!