Since the initial outbreak in early January, concerns about the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) have only grown among healthcare providers and citizens alike. With many cases now confirmed in the U.S. and many more cropping up each day, these concerns are not unfounded. Even though we may still be in the early stages, American healthcare organizations have been implementing protocols for identifying and triaging potential cases of coronavirus, and this is key to flattening the curve and mitigating further outbreak.

In order to make your facility’s coronavirus mitigation strategy as effective as possible, there need to be comprehensive and instantaneous communication channels between staff on the front lines and everyone else in the hospital—especially leadership, supply chain, EVS/housekeeping and public relations. We’ve outlined below some tips for making the most of your emergency pandemic response plans in order to keep patients and staff safe.

1. Deploy Your Incident Command Center

Even if your state doesn’t many confirmed cases of coronavirus diagnosis yet, you should still plan on deploying your incident command center. This opens channels of communication that are not typically available to staff under normal circumstances, and that will keep hospital leadership apprised of any developing situations.

Make sure your incident command center for the coronavirus pandemic is able to communicate bidirectionally with staff in other areas of the organization, especially ED/triage, staff in isolation rooms and supply chain staff. It’s likely you will want updates from these areas as soon as they are available, so enabling communication modalities through your clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) platform will be your best bet.

2. Provide Resources at the Point of Care

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep up-to-date information on national and state-wide infection status and best practices for interacting with patients in order to minimize chances of transmission. While your clinical staff and providers are likely already familiar with best practices for source control and identifying at-risk patients, it’s not a bad idea to arm them with additional resources and reference materials for diagnosing coronavirus and other important information.gif illustrating how users can open coronavirus reference materials seamlessly from their CC&C platform

For instance, by using InterApp Launch Points, you can give nurses and physicians a seamless way to access CDC’s checklist for hospital staff or your organization’s triage protocol for infectious diseases, from directly within the CC&C platform. Valuable guidance to provide includes:

  • Persons under investigation (PUI) definition and symptom list
  • Information on reporting and testing suspected cases
  • Triage, isolation and protective equipment protocols
  • Source control measures
  • CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) websites

Even if your staff knows this, it’s a good idea to provide this in a ubiquitous location in case staff would like to be refreshed. Adding it as a launch point within your communication platform ensures they won’t have to go looking for paper handouts or rush to a desktop computer to do a web search for the information they need. This convenience returns critical time to care and can benefit patient outcomes during an unpredictable time.

3. Share Important Contact Information

The CDC recommends clinicians and providers contact key facility staff and public health authorities if they suspect a patient presents with coronavirus. To make it as easy as possible for employees to do this, consider adding important contact information for public health officials to your facility’s enterprise directory. That way, if a clinician suspects coronavirus as a diagnosis, all they have to do is search the hospital directory on their smartphone to find the number they should call.

Likewise, the virtual incident command center within your organization’s CC&C platform should make it easier than ever for frontline staff to communicate instantaneous updates about PUI and suspected coronavirus cases with hospital leadership or infectious disease specialists. This reduces any possible friction with this workflow to maximize information sharing.

4. Anticipate an Influx of Patients

This should not be a problem if your incident command center has already been deployed, but it’s an important point nonetheless. The coronavirus outbreak has coincided with peak flu season, which already puts strain on healthcare delivery organizations and providers. Make sure you are accounting for any surges you may see in visitors to the ED.

Use your mobile CC&C platform to create virtual units to move non-coronavirus patients to other areas of the hospital or plan on discharging them in order to provide more access to potential COVID-19 cases. If your facility is not equipped to treat anyone with a coronavirus diagnosis, either because of lack of resources or equipment like respirators, ventilators or masks, communicate patient transfers via your CC&C platform or use secure video chat to perform a remote consult with an infectious disease specialist.

5. Track Supply Chain

Supply chain updates and workflows go hand-in-hand with anticipating more patients. Make sure you are ordering enough mission-critical supplies to cover an influx of infected patients. The CDC recommends taking stock of protective equipment and ordering more if need be.

If there’s a shortage or if your facility is unable to get more equipment or supplies in a timely manner—a reality many healthcare organizations are now facing—your incident command center will need to pay close attention to and be discerning with the available supplies. This is where making your facility’s CC&C platform available to supply chain staff pays off. If supply chain staff can communicate real-time updates to the incident command team, hospital leadership can make executive decisions based on up-to-date information in order to get as much as possible out of existing supplies.

Through all of these processes, bidirectional communication between staff and leadership is absolutely critical. As we see the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. incrementally rise, it’s imperative that healthcare organizations plan for this outbreak to affect their community. For more information on how you can brace your facility against emergency and disaster situations, download our white paper: A Guide to Emergency Response Communication.