Despite the latest Situation Summary from the CDC, which indicates the new coronavirus “is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States”, some media coverage suggests we should be prepared for a pandemic. In either case, the level of concern among the general population is rising – and this has particular ramifications for hospital personnel charged with patient screening and also for care team members looking after existing patients who may have concerns about being exposed to the virus while being treated for something else.
Whether reacting to an imminent threat such as the coronavirus, or being prepared for future outbreaks, using automated outreach to provide preventive education and reminders, along with continual patient assessment through purposeful rounding, can help not only streamline information collection, but accurately record data to improve patient engagement for future hospital preparedness and response efforts.
Coronavirus: The Facts
As of this writing, there have been 12 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the U.S., and hospitals across the country are preparing. As reported by Associate Professor of Medicine for Duke University, Cameron Wolfe, in The Chronicle, “the foremost step to handling a potential case is risk assessment.” In short, if a person hasn’t been in China over the last 14 days, the risk is very low.
See daily updates from the World Health Organization on the spread of the virus worldwide and in the U.S.
Coronavirus: The Precautions
Healthcare facilities are employing patient engagement techniques early to assess the risk of an infected person entering the hospital and potentially causing harm to other patients.
CDC guidelines suggest the following questions be added to any admissions screener to assess the risk of infection:
- Does the person have fever or symptoms of lower respiratory infection, such as cough or shortness of breath?
- Has the patient traveled to mainland China within 14 days of symptom onset?
- Has the patient had close contact with a person confirmed with the infection?
Source: CDC Health Alert Network
Hospitals and other facilities that use automated outreach tools can quickly update their preventive health messages (via voice or text) to address these vital questions even before the patient sets foot in the facility. By automating outreach, the healthcare provider is equipped to quickly screen or share important information on a large volume of patients. This ability can be very valuable to the entire community, as it frees up resources to focus on providing care.
In addition to screening and pre-screening any new patients, facilities are encouraged to:
- Review and update their pandemic influenza plan (Here is a checklist from the CDC on what elements your plan should cover.)
- Keep patients calm by addressing their concerns and providing assurance that the current risk is low.
- Adhere to strict hygiene protocols, including frequent hand washing and wearing gloves. Ensure that hand sanitizer, face masks, and tissues are readily accessible to all patients.
- Stay knowledgeable and calm yourself.
Coronavirus: The Questions
What is the responsibility of hospital employees who have contact with patients in times of heightened uncertainty? Truthfully, it’s the same as it is anytime – to make patients feel cared for, safe, and that their concerns are being understood and addressed. At CipherHealth, we believe this is best accomplished through proactive patient engagement strategies that improve communication.
For example, while making rounds as the threat of an outbreak looms, you will likely encounter patients with questions that go beyond their current conditions and treatment plans. This is where purposeful rounding, or using proactive communication to alleviate patient anxiety, plays an important role. In particular, digital rounding tools can enable the facility to develop messaging to let patients know their specific concerns are being met. Rounding scripts should be updated to alleviate and address any anxiety patients may be feeling – particularly populations that face higher risk, such as the elderly.
For example, if the rounder conducts a visual sweep and observes that the patient looks anxious when a news clip about the virus appears on their TV screen, this is an opportunity to learn more about the patient’s concerns. In following purposeful rounding best practices, the rounder can assure the patient that the hospital has taken every precaution to screen incoming patients and has detailed protocols in place in the event of a pandemic, which is unlikely. It’s important to be knowledgeable about the number of current cases in the U.S. and how they were transmitted to help answer the patient’s questions. This should help to alleviate patient concerns and help them to focus on their own recovery, rather than be stressed about ailments they will likely never contract.
CipherHealth will be monitoring developments on the coronavirus and continue to provide information relevant to patient engagement here on the blog.
If you suspect a patient may have symptoms of the flu or the new coronavirus, review these guidelines from the CDC as well as your hospital’s own protocols for pandemics.
For more on how to make rounds purposeful to deliver meaningful patient engagement outcomes, register for our upcoming webinar.