Powering Coronavirus Defense with Meaningful Change

The Unites States healthcare system is facing a massive challenge with the rapidly spreading Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The number of confirmed cases worldwide exceeds 116,000 across more than 115 countries, with more than 4,000 fatalities. This includes the United States, where 761 cases have been diagnosed.

Similar events occurred during SARS, H1N1, and most recently the 2014 Ebola epidemic. In November 2015, there had been over 28,000 confirmed Ebola cases with roughly 11,000 reported deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified the Ebola virus fatality rate to be close to 50 percent. The United States was ready to treat patients for the disease, but they were not ready to properly diagnose and react to walk-in patients visiting the emergency department.

Learning from this challenge, access to testing kits is particularly key to Coronavirus tracking and containment following the first reported community case. Testing is a critical element of contact tracing, enabling healthcare providers to better understand and control the spread of the virus. With this in mind, organizations should keep a continuous pulse on the latest CDC guidance and policies on testing.

In response to threats from the Coronavirus, healthcare providers across the United States are quickly preparing and asking the appropriate questions around supply chain management, resource allocation, decontamination procedures, patient and clinical safety, and communication strategies. There are several key considerations in the development of a plan to prepare your organization, all of which are enabled by a focus on meaningful change.

Review all CDC, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and local emergency procedures.

The CDC and HHS have been fast at work with documenting everything known about the Coronavirus to date. Documentation is currently available detailing the symptoms, origins, prevention, and treatment plans. Your disaster response team needs to be informed of the virus and the potential threat it poses to your community and organization.

Helpful Tip: Updates are coming in regularly to the CDC, so be sure that your team continuously checks the website for updates, protocols, and appropriate decontamination agents required to treat the disease.

Document and initiate your organization’s communication and disaster plan.

Your disaster response team should work closely with your communications team to draft and distribute documentation on the disease to all healthcare staff. In the documentation, be sure to reinforce your policies and procedures around infection control and patient and clinical safety. From knowledge you’ve gained in reviewing the CDC documentation, provide employees with guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE), how the disease is spread (e.g. airborne), patient symptoms, and the correct protocol for handling patients entering the system (e.g. triage and patient isolation process).

Helpful Tip: Screen the emergency department for high-risk patients with symptoms pertaining to the disease and isolate these patients immediately (e.g. less than five minutes). Ask if the patient has recently traveled and be sure to document accordingly in the patient electronic medical record (EMR) system. Medical staff need to be aware at all times when dealing with a patient who has been infected. This prevents the outbreak from infecting other patients and ensures that your medical staff performs the necessary treatment plans.

Empower your clinical and hospital staff to communicate, solve problems, and address supply chain concerns.  

Management needs to be accessible to front-line staff to address problems. However, during an outbreak of this size, employees need to be empowered to solve issues as they arise. This is where your protocols and documentation come in play. Hospital administration leaders need to hold meetings regularly with all healthcare workers and continuously address the severity of the disease and reinforce the importance of the protocols in place. Communication between clinical and other hospital staff is critical during this time for both their and their patients’ safety. Department leadership should also conduct an inventory check to ensure orders are placed well in advance for the necessary protective and treatment equipment. One of the most important tasks during this time is to make sure you have a resilient and robust supply chain filled with the tools to prevent and treat the disease.  

Helpful tip: Consider setting up daily touch points to address questions and concerns from medical staff. Be sure to address supply chain management regularly in these meetings. Map how supply chain is impacted from the second the patient enters the system (e.g. ambulance treatment) to when the patient is officially discharged (e.g. decontamination process). Your medical and hospital staff need to understand the larger picture at hand and the necessary steps and equipment needed to respond effectively.

Run drills for your hospital staff regularly.

Leadership should regularly run drills to ensure the team is ready for an event of this size. These drills should promote a heightened situational awareness for staff and allow the organization to better prepare for surprises. During the drills, leadership should document its findings to shed light on possible solutions to mitigate issues. Continuous education for staff is critical so they can perform under increased pressure.

Helpful tip: If possible, consider leveraging various first responder agencies with different scenarios during these drills. Ensure your staff is prepared with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), the proper diagnoses and treatment plans, and understand how to isolate and transfer patients during outbreak events.

Mitigating disease impact starts with organizational change.

Healthcare leadership faces several important decisions when implementing a plan, yet a culture of accountability, safety, and learning is at the foundation of any successful mitigation strategy. Instilling meaningful cultural change can be difficult in global emergencies of this size and magnitude. By supplementing traditional change management practices with emerging techniques such as design thinking, behavioral science, and agile delivery, healthcare leaders will drive higher levels of adoption of new processes and policies, while empowering employees to pivot quickly as challenges evolve. Ultimately, this focus enables a more rapid activation of strategies to strengthen your pandemic and infection disease plan, while keeping your community, staff, and patients protected.