Tales from treating COVID-19: Building PCs from scratch and implementing software solutions in days

There was a moment during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak when Lisa Stump’s IT team was bumping up against a roadblock. They needed to transition regular beds into ICU beds, but were having trouble sourcing the necessary equipment.

“We were rapidly installing telehealth carts in rooms, but we had to source all those carts, and our vendor couldn’t keep up with our need,” Stump explained. Stump is senior vice president and CIO for the Yale New Haven Health System, headquartered in New Haven, Conn.

Luckily, members of the IT team were also engineers. Engineers with a plan. They took over empty facility space and started sourcing computer components so they could build the carts themselves.

“They basically set up a PC factory,” Stump said. “By building our own equipment, the team was able to keep Yale New Haven ahead of the curve. They met every need and saved us thousands and thousands of PPE pieces because of that effort.”

Through innovation, ingenuity and an all-hands-on-deck spirit, Stump’s IT team did what was necessary to connect and protect its patients and staff.

Stump’s story was one of many shared during HealthsystemsCIO.com’s Stories from the front lines of IT webinar, which took place May 14. The webinar, sponsored by Hyland Healthcare, also featured Chuck Christian, CTO and vice president of Technology at Franciscan Health, and Colleen Sirhal, chief clinical officer at Hyland.

Preparing patients and protecting the workforce

It was no surprise to Sirhal that the IT departments of Franciscan Health – headquartered in the heart of the Midwest in Indianapolis, Ind. – and the East Coast’s Yale New Haven felt the pandemic’s initial impact differently.

“We’re hearing exactly this from our customers and friends in healthcare,” said Sirhal. “In hot zones, many people are returning to active patient care from administration roles just to help meet demand. Others are observing and strategizing how they can apply lessons learned from their peers. And that’s not just here in the U.S., but across the globe.”

For every healthcare system, preparing for patients and protecting its workforce was much the same. Franciscan’s IT team helped move more than 5,000 employees to remote working status, and quickly found safer ways to engage with its patient population in both ambulatory and acute care settings. It also learned how to properly conduct work in isolation areas, something the organization had never done before.

“Our IT team is working remotely, too, and they haven’t missed a beat,” Christian said.

The pandemic hit the Yale New Haven team hard and early, said Stump. COVID patients almost entirely occupied the beds at its Greenwich, N.Y., facility. The team watched the virus spread down the east coast as it peaked in facility after facility.

In one instance, to protect them from the disease, Yale New Haven moved all of its cancer patients – hundreds, along with support staff – out of one hospital and into another building populated with negative pressure rooms, which help prevent airborne diseases from escaping and infecting staff and other patients.

Elsewhere, teams worked around the clock to stand up more than 300 ICU rooms. The hospital’s clinical engineering team turned anesthesia machines into ventilators, and the hospital worked with local high schools to 3D-print splitters for ventilators. They even created new technology that would allow clinicians to change ventilator settings and monitor the machines from outside the patient’s room.

“What has amazed me the most is the great collaboration occurring between competitors around the state,” Stump said. “We’re coming together to care for our patients and for one another.”

Transforming in weeks instead of months – or years

Before the pandemic struck, Franciscan was in the process of reviewing a global VPN solution. The IT team planned to play with it a bit. Maybe take a few months to test it out.

Instead, the team implemented the solution in a week.

“We were working on implementation of Outlook 360, to use as a collaboration tool,” Christian continued. “We went from zero to 10,000 miles per hour to get that done.”

Doing so now allows one physician to conduct COVID patient rounds while other specialists consult from a nearby conference room.

Stump’s team also helped establish a way for Yale New Haven clinicians and staff to communicate with colleagues outside a COVID patient’s room, even for simple things like more supplies. This proves extremely helpful when staff are required to put on and remove PPE every time they enter and leave the room.

The IT team also assisted with new telehealth capabilities. Through innovation and collaboration, Yale New Haven has managed more than 120,000 telehealth visits – up a hundred fold or more, according to Stump.

That speed to innovation is now an internal mantra at Hyland: “What we did in six months, we need to do in six days,” said Sirhal. “We’re asking ourselves every day how do we help customers engage with their teams and get work done faster?”

In one instance, Hyland discovered that many of its NilRead enterprise and diagnostic viewer customers hadn’t activated an embedded clinical collaboration feature. This feature helps streamline physician collaboration, second opinions and remote diagnoses.

For example, if a radiologist is reviewing an image and wants to consult another radiologist or specialist, they can email a secure, direct and unique link to the imaging study within NilRead. Then, both radiologists can access the same imaging set at the same time via their own devices – regardless of where they are located. They can discuss properties of the image and even make annotations simultaneously.

To make sure customers were getting the most of their solution, Hyland set up one-on-one remote meetings to inform customers and show them how to implement the tool.

“One customer turned the tool on and, before they told anyone, more than 300 clinicians had engaged with the tool, sharing images outside a patient’s room or down the street,” said Sirhal.

Mobilizing a remote workforce – and keeping them there

For Yale New Haven, mobilizing its IT staff to quickly stand-up a new remote workforce was surprisingly easy, mostly because many of the building blocks were already in place. And Stump doesn’t see a move away from working remotely anytime soon.

“Part of our recovery plan is to keep the bulk of our employees working from home,” she said.

The healthcare system is surveying employees to better understand the challenges they face in this new environment – and then solving those challenges. While staff members have been positive about working at least part of the time from home, Stump also wants to make sure they maintain their work culture and sense of community.

“I think the long-term benefits of this approach will outweigh the short-term expenses,” she said.

“It’s definitely a new normal for us, both for how we get work done and how we treat patients,” said Christian.

He believes some of that will revert to the way the health system used to operate. “But there are a lot of functions that are getting done better off-site, that are more productive,” he said.

For Christian, the challenge is control over the digital transaction between people and technology.

“We’re at the mercy of the ISP,” he said.

And with staff in rural areas with low or no internet connectivity, that’s a challenge. To overcome it, the hospital was able to supply those employees with hot spots connected to FirstNet, the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.

Leadership lessons learned

“This leveled the playing field,” said Stump. “Vulnerability and integrity immediately came in to play. Titles didn’t matter. Everyone needed to work together.”

Christian agreed. “That willingness to collaborate any time, day or night. To roll up our sleeves and help each other out.”

For Sirhal, the message is trust. “Trusting your colleagues, trusting your partners and vendors,” she said. “It fuels ingenuity and great patient care.”

Ready to learn more? <<< Check out the webinar in its entirety. >>>

Tom Tennant has expertise in content creation and content services and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.
Tom Tennant

Tom Tennant

Tom Tennant has expertise in content creation and content services and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.

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