By Mary Kate McGrath - April 28, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has posed a unique communication challenge for hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is highly infectious, meaning families are unable to accompany loved ones to the emergency room. Nor are patients hospitalized for other medical concerns, from major injuries to those in maternity wards, allowed to have visitors. For this reason, already overworked doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are serving as the primary source of contact for family members looking for updates about patients and how the coronavirus outbreak is being managed within the healthcare facilities.
Emergency preparedness notification tools are often implemented in disaster situations, and one key functionality is the ability to directly reach patient’s families, helping reduce the number of calls with routine questions. Doctors will be able to spend less time communicating basic information, and use their bandwidth to speak with families of patients in critical condition.
Notification tools can play a key role in coronavirus communications for other healthcare facilities as well. Nursing homes, which have proved vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks, are likely to receive an influx of calls from concerned family members. Major outbreaks have occured at nursing and rehabilitation facilities as well as veterans homes, where a combination of factors make residents and staff more susceptible, including an aging or frail population, chronic understaffing, a lack of PPE, and the inevitable contact between residents and physicians, according to the New York Times.
Families are likely to have increased anxiety about relatives in elder care and these worries will be compounded by the inability to visit, so there has never been a more important time for these facilities to expand communication. It’s important that procedures and protocol changes, as well as any potential updates as the situation around the coronavirus develops.
New ordinances in the United States even require long term facilities to communicate confirmed COVID-19 cases among patients or staff. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine ordered the Ohio Department of Public Health to require long term facilities to notify both residents and their families if a staff member or other resident tests positive for the coronavirus, according to ABC 6. The order requires notifications to be made within 24 hours of a confirmed case. “If I was going to a nursing home or if I had a parent in a nursing home or if I was thinking about having a parent go into a nursing home, I would want to know that piece of information,” DeWine told the outlet. In addition, the governor plans to list long-term facilities with positive cases on the state’s coronavirus website.
During a disaster - whether it’s a hurricane, flood, or tornado - emergency notification tools enable hospitals to communicate relevant information to physicians, patients, and their families. The coronavirus pandemic, while unprecedented, should be approached like any disaster. For example, healthcare facilities should keep community member’s families updated amid hurricane or storm evacuations, informing patient’s loved ones of any residential changes. Nursing homes are increasingly relying on separating those who are ill from those who aren't, with facilities separating “COVID positive” areas from “COVID negative” areas, as per WBUR.
Other facilities are relocating residents to hospitals, or nearby nursing homes with greater capacity. Evacuations or quarantines of this sort are also important to communicate to families - while loved ones are certain to have additional concerns, many want to know that nursing facilities are taking significant action to combat the virus, including relocation practices.
In general, it is a best practice to proactively keep community members and their families up-to date on the steps your hospital or nursing home is taking to prevent infection. Many healthcare facilities send out a notice via text or email keeping patients and families updated about updated coronavirus procedures including efforts to increase sanitation and cleaning within the facility and regulary do screenings for staff.
SMS Opt-In functionality can expand hospital communications with families. Many institutions are creating different keywords for each facility and encouraging people to text that keyword to a specific short code which then allows physicians and nurses to receive information relevant to their role, and family members to receive daily or even hourly updates about the current COVID-19 situation. Leveraging this system can help prevent confusion confusion among patients and their families and reduce the number of inbound calls, questions, and requests that could be answered within opt-in messaging.
Hospitals can also communicate procedures to families using a mass notification tool including information on how to call-ahead for a telemedicine assessment, or details on where the appropriate entrance is for an emergency visit.
With doctors, nurses, and other hospital or healthcare staff becoming the primary liaison with patient’s families, it’s more critical now than ever for hospitals to leverage the full extent of their emergency medical system to help streamline operations and provide patients the best care possible.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
To address and combat the quickly spreading COVID-19 crisis, state and local governments across the United States...