Embracing flexibility and adaptability in the light of COVID-19
Embracing flexibility and adaptability in the light of COVID-19

Embracing flexibility and adaptability in the light of COVID-19

Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Florida, reflects about experiences and best practices in the future

Flexibility and adaptability are terms that I think of when I think of the ideal candidate for a job interview – someone who can jump into any situation, make sense of it and deliver a quality result.

For many in the healthcare field, we have been doing things the same way for so long that we were a little stuck in the past. We had a vision in the back pocket of a more flexible and adaptable healthcare system, but it was something that seemed to belong to a distant future. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to embrace rapid change and declare that now is the time to achieve these future goals. We were at the mercy of a devastating disease and had to act quickly to save lives.

We know our field will continue to be challenged by COVID-19, but this pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson: the future will not be waiting for us, and instead we must be ready to embrace it.

At Baptist Health, we fully embraced telehealth and virtual care, launched extended home care and reinvested in our team members. We have also embraced the power of using predictive analytics daily to plan our next move and have changed the way we deal with crises while tackling an ongoing and constantly changing disease.

Connecting with patients via Virtual Care

We have been using telehealth at Baptist Health since 2015 to enable our emergency services providers – particularly those treating stroke and pediatric patients – to bring their expertise into community-based emergency departments in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. The pandemic helped convert the use of telecommunications health from “nice to have” to “necessary to have” to maintain physical and mental health for many patients.

In March and April 2020, Baptist Health and our medical teams quickly coordinated telemedicine visits to nearly 100 medical practices to safely continue to care for patients through virtual doctor visits. We continue to offer virtual visits to most medical offices, including Baptist Behavioral Health, where providers still see a high percentage of patients via telesealth visits – currently over 80%. We also introduced HealthPlace On Demand powered by Telescope Health last year. The HealthPlace On Demand app connects patients 24/7 via video chat to trusted, board-certified emergency and family physicians.

Expansion of home care

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we needed a new model of improved home care to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations at our five hospitals. The solution was to copy a certain level of care that COVID-19 patients would receive in the hospital but safely administer it at home.

Within a few weeks, Mary Leen, vice president of clinical surgery, spearheaded the development of an improved home care model featuring assessments of home nurses and virtual visits by Baptist Health primary care physicians. Taking care of COVID-19 patients who needed oxygen therapy in their homes was something we had never done before, so we set up a clinical transformation working group consisting of team members from across the healthcare system and developed clinical guidelines for treating these patients in home environment.

The results speak for themselves. Only 10% of the more than 1,800 COVID-19-positive patients treated through Baptist Health’s improved home care model since March 2020 have been hospitalized.

Reinvestment in team members

Like healthcare systems across the country, we have relied on the support of travel nurses throughout the pandemic to supplement our staffing needs. But as the pandemic continues, we want to focus more on supporting our own nurses and team members. We have invested millions of dollars in increasing salaries as just one way to emphasize the value we attach to the health heroes of Baptist Health.

Continues to promote change

With all that has happened in the last two years, embracing flexibility and adaptability will remain key skills for all of us.

We leverage predictive analytics to look at local, regional, national, and international health trends on a daily basis and analyze how COVID-19 numbers are rising and falling globally. It helps us prepare for the coming trends. We utilized predictive analyzes prior to COVID-19, but primarily to look at regional health trends in our market.

Because of COVID-19, we are also reconsidering how we respond to crises. In the first and second increases, we responded with an incident command system designed for crises that have a start and an end similar to what we previously set up with hurricanes and Ebola. However, after witnessing the chronic, constantly changing nature of COVID-19, we have adapted our approach and shifted our focus to deal with the increases. This allows us to be better prepared to deal with disruptions when they come.

We know our field will continue to be challenged by COVID-19, but this pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson: the future will not be waiting for us, and instead we must be ready to embrace it.

Matt Zuino is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Baptist Health, based in Jacksonville, Florida. Baptist Health was featured in AHA Living Learning Network’s The Pandemic: A Time of Challenges and Masters. Dedicated to helping participants recover from the pandemic, LLN rebuilds and recreates the public health and healthcare sector using a variety of platforms, such as bulletin boards, podcasts, and virtual learning sessions. Learn more and apply to become a member of LLN.

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