Healthcare industry experts and public officials are proactively planning ahead to ensure that the U.S. and our healthcare system is better prepared for the next pandemic. As vaccine roll-outs continue to ramp up, new COVID variants continue to spread, and states reopen with staggered masking and safety policies, the tough lessons learned around unpreparedness cannot be dismissed.
Many experts have argued that COVID-19 accelerated long overdue improvements to our healthcare system, but response efforts will not sustain the safety and financial challenges hospitals and health systems face well into the future. Beyond the immediate needs in responding to COVID, results from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Pulse Survey reports that hospitals need and want to allocate resources toward long-term improvement opportunities that address challenges that existed before, but were made worse by the pandemic.
Why a shift from reactive to proactive investments in patient and staff safety is critical for post-COVID recovery
COVID-19 made clear the impact of these challenges - and the fact that they are not going away on their own. The high risk of infection exposure and spread within the four walls of a hospital is of particular concern. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, at the peak of the pandemic, an average of 120 patients a day became infected with COVID-19 inside U.S. hospitals. Furthermore, the CDC reports more than 455,000 healthcare workers have become infected over the last year, highlighting the need for a renewed focus on tools and strategies to improve patient and staff safety.
From the very onset of COVID, nearly all healthcare organizations were forced to quickly adapt. Many, including Methodist Hospital of Southern California, saw this as a critical moment to not only support immediate response needs, but to also better equip facilities and teams with strong safety infrastructure for the future. The forward-thinking team at Methodist knew that even amidst the uncertainty of COVID, an investment in safety technology would significantly improve their ability to meet these 3 key objectives, even in a post-COVID environment.
1. The ability to accelerate exposure response time for all infectious diseases:
Despite wide-spread efforts to reduce the impact of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), 1.7M infections are reported across U.S hospitals each year. In the event of an outbreak, hospitals, including Methodist, traditionally relied on lengthy, outdated processes to determine exposure, leaving patients and staff at risk. According to Bala Chandrasekhar, Chief Medical Officer at Methodist Hospital of Southern California, “with a manual contact tracing, it is difficult to risk stratify. The two two-week lag period in the manual process could lead to the spread of coronavirus infection.”
With automated, badge-based, contact tracing technology, occupational health staff are able to immediately identify all individuals who came into contact with an infected person, across multiple locations, in as little as 5 minutes. The speed of the technology has increased the effectiveness of Methodist’s occupational health teams.
2. Support the safety and wellbeing of hospital staff:
Because COVID-19 transmission can occur before symptoms become apparent, exposure tracking and quarantining exposed individuals are essential to controlling an outbreak. Before they implemented contact tracing, Methodist was sending large numbers of hospital workers home unnecessarily - further causing critical staffing shortages.
In just the first few months of launching contact tracing, Dr. Chandrasekhar says roughly 114 employees had been screened, and the virus’ spread within the hospital had been contained. To help drive awareness and adoption for the technology, internal education programs pointed to the value in capturing objective data via safety technology as a way to safeguard staff and accurately determine risk. Daniels notes that staff morale has improved, and employees aren’t taking days off because they fear contracting COVID-19 in the hospital.
3. Drive pre-pandemic hospital utilization and revenue:
At the onset and peak of the outbreak, hospitals everywhere saw sharp declines in ER and hospital utilization rates. Looking ahead, many experts, including the team at Methodist are not expecting COVID-19 to disappear, even after vaccines have been widely distributed. This uncertainty has resulted in more than 40% of adults delaying essential and preventative care - a trend that is expected to continue.
In a discussion with Health Innovation, Chief Strategy Officer at Methodist, Cliff Daniels, explained, “it wasn't just people [avoiding] showing up for sprained ankles or sore throats; we saw falloffs in heart attacks and strokes. People were literally deathly ill and avoiding hospitalizations [in fear] of potentially catching COVID-19.”
The challenge for hospitals moving forward is in restoring trust with communities that it’s safe to seek care. Methodist Hospital of Southern California strongly believes that contact tracing will remain a key tool in helping them do just that.
Download our case study and learn how Edward Elmhurst Health used contact tracing technology to help manage the spread of COVID-19 within their hospitals.