[COVID-19] 4 Ways Hospitals Can Plan Ahead for an Infection Outbreak

Operational and financial preparation is well underway across U.S. hospitals, as the threat of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), on top of an already bad flu season, continues to mount.  Given how fast the COVID-19 situation is escalating, hospital leaders are quickly switching gears, evaluating solutions to maximize safety and facility preparedness.  While patient safety is always a fundamental objective in healthcare, emergency situations, like an infection outbreak, are often drivers for change.  

Our team at SwipeSense takes great pride in partnering with healthcare delivery networks across the country to advance patient safety - not only during widespread outbreaks, but every day in the mission to eliminate harm in hospitals.  

As your organization evaluates facility readiness in the case of an outbreak, here are 4 helpful strategies to consider - all of which are effective during preparation, but also as you think about ways to prevent harm, reduce waste, lower costs, and improve outcomes in the long-term.

1. Implement an efficient exposure tracking process

With a challenging, unknown timeline ahead for COVID-19, infection exposure tracking to protect patients and hospital staff and report to regulatory bodies, has become just as important as preventative measures like hand hygiene.  

When an outbreak occurs and the source of infection is identified, the World Health Organization recommends immediate and thorough contact tracing.  Contact tracing is critical in containing and preventing further spread, but when done manually, the process can result in tens to hundreds of hours of work to ensure accuracy.  U.S. hospitals treating early cases of COVID-19, and those in preparation stages, all report that there is an immediate need for resources, including epidemiologists at the local level who can help with contact tracing and exposure monitoring in the case of an emergency.  But of course, more boots on the ground, means more money.  

Real-time Location System (RTLS) technology like SwipeSense Electronic Hand Hygiene and Nursing Insights applications, automatically track every entry and exit of staff in patient rooms.  As a result, hospitals can quickly report on all staff who interacted with a patient, entered a room, or performed a bedside shift handoff with another nurse or physician, allowing for prompt notification of exposure to staff and regulators, like the CDC.  

Contact tracing is also valuable in determining if medical equipment came into contact with an infected staff member or patient.  Room-level data about when and where an asset was used, can help drive immediate removal, sanitization, or isolation of that asset. 

"When dealing with an outbreak in the past, we spent more than 100 combined staff hours conducting electronic record chart trace backs to determine team members who entered a single room. With real-time, room-level data from SwipeSense, we are able to run a report on the exposed room, quickly identifying who may have come into contact with a harmful organism." - Jamie Swift, Ballad Health, Corporate Director Infection Prevention

2. Evaluate hospital equipment inventory to reduce costs, avoid shortages, and improve patient safety

At the same time that hospitals are allocating resources for exposure tracking, facilities teams, biomedical engineering, and clinical workers are likely tied up searching for extra hospital equipment for the potential influx of patients.  Even during a typical shift, nurses are spending up to an hour searching for hospital equipment.  With the added pressure of an infection outbreak, that time is too valuable to waste.  Mobile equipment such as beds, pumps, ventilators, and other important medical devices need to not only be quickly located and readily available, but also functioning properly to ensure patient safety.  

With an advanced RTLS Asset Tracking system, a hospital can virtually map and track all of the most important assets in a facility or across a health system.  Effective asset management allows an organization to more efficiently utilize current assets on hand, while also reallocating excess assets across departments or facilities - improving communication and cutting time and costs.

In preparation for an outbreak like COVID-19, asset utilization reports can also improve strategic purchasing and rental considerations.  This data offers powerful insight into the current availability of a facility’s assets, which devices are over or underutilized on a regular basis, helping to avoid shortages or surpluses.  

3. Standardize infection prevention protocol 

Infection prevention is a multi-faceted approach, with hand hygiene being one of the most critical parts of the equation.  Yet in busy healthcare settings, particularly during emergency situations, this important step can be overlooked. Actionable, real-time compliance insights empower facilities to create lasting behavior change, adding an extra level of assurance that every-day tasks, like hand hygiene, are consistently part of clinical workflow.  

Electronic hand hygiene monitoring is the industry’s new standard of excellence for hospitals and infection prevention teams to measure hand hygiene compliance.  Hospital quality and safety rating organizations, including The Leapfrog Group, are paying close attention to the impact these automated systems have on overall safety, in comparison to traditional, outdated manual methods.  

"We are excited to be on the forefront of implementing Electronic Hand Hygiene monitoring across our entire health system.  SwipeSense helps to take us to another level in ensuring we are following established hand hygiene protocols so we can keep patients safe." — Theresa Rutherford, President and CEO of HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital


4. Communicate, educate, and reinforce fundamental safety practices 

Hospitals are familiar with managing hospital-acquired infections and other common outbreaks, but as the potential risk of more severe cases, such as COVID-19 evolves, heightened attention and awareness of proper infection prevention protocol is critical.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a Coronavirus Hospital Preparedness Assessment Tool, which includes important areas for hospitals to review in preparation.  Especially given the uncertainty around COVID-19’s treatment and symptoms, consistent and clear communication and education reinforces essential practices, including contact tracing, isolation, hand hygiene, and other preventative measures. 

Keeping these strategies in mind before, during or after a severe outbreak is the most effective way to be prepared at all times to deliver the best possible patient experience.  Our Infection Prevention Guide offers more helpful tips on preventive measures to avoid and eliminate harm.  

Access the Infection Prevention Guide
Looking to take patient safety matters into your own hands? Learn more about how SwipeSense partners with leading hospitals to drive immediate and long-term impact.