Hospitals Switching IT Plans Rapidly As COVID-19 Impact Grows

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies, hospitals are struggling valiantly to keep up with the influx of infected patients. Hospital IT departments, meanwhile, are undergoing stresses of their own as they work to support the rapidly escalating needs of clinicians.

One look at these efforts comes courtesy of FierceHealthcare, which spoke with health IT leaders at two major health systems about their efforts to cope with the demands the virus has imposed on their organizations.

One health system who talked with the publication is Geisinger Health Plan, which serves more than 3 million patients in 45 counties in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Geisinger’s CIO, John Kravitz, said his team was moving at “lightning speed” to keep things moving. “We’ve never experienced anything like this,” Kravitz told the publication. “You get things done, you plan on the fly.”

One way Kravitz and his team are addressing the rush is by creating new applications weeding out patients who don’t need to come to the emergency department.

The health system has developed a chatbot to help triage and screen patients remotely. In addition, it’s setting up video chat capabilities for admitted patients allowing them to contact their families at home, which helps to minimize person-to-person contact.

Meanwhile, Geisinger is helping clinical leaders onboard 1,000 physicians for virtual care visits. This involves supplying the physicians with devices, cameras and headsets allowing physicians to work from their homes. The health system is also giving radiologists the equipment they need to work from home, including high-resolution monitors, voice-to-text capabilities to transcribe documentation and integrate it back into the systems’ EHRs.

What’s more, Kravitz is providing IT infrastructure for the 13 temporary facilities Geisinger has set up outside its locations, including computers, printers and fiber-optic connections.

IT leaders are also changing their plans rapidly at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which operates 40 hospitals.

Health leaders with UPMC are shifting telehealth services away from routine care to bringing primary care physicians onboard and allowing them to work at home. Their job is to address the explosion of patients with symptoms that might indicate the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

“Many of our healthcare providers may be potentially quarantined or may be COVID-19 positive,” said Robert Bart, M.D., chief medical information officer at UPMC, who spoke with FH. “We have focused on making sure that they have appropriate technology at home.”

Increasing the use of telehealth technology is taking its toll on its network infrastructure, however. Bart noted that the UPMC IT network is supporting 30,000 concurrent connections, with between 18,000 and 20,000 of those being remote users.

No doubt this is just a small sample of the fires IT professionals are working on every day. What is your healthcare organization doing to manage COVID-19? What have you found most effective?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.