By Angie Franks
Health systems, hospitals and clinics across the country have deployed multifaceted strategies for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of these measures are highly visible, from the placement of tents and blockades outside emergency departments (EDs), to the conversion of oﬀ-campus buildings into dedicated COVID-19 treatment centers.
Less conspicuous, but just as crucial, is the role of the health system access center that manages transfers to the health system and orchestrates care for patients across the network. In fact, a properly staﬀed, well-run access center plays a vital role in responding eﬀectively to the challenges of COVID-19. For example, access centers can intelligently stratify patient risk, prevent inappropriate ED use, safely arrange transportation and initially manage infected patients, optimize capacity utilization, and ensure that COVID-19 patients receive prompt, targeted care while minimizing risk to other patients, clinicians, and staﬀ.
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The following are five ways your access center can help optimize care and minimize risk during the COVID-19 crisis, whether you are in the midst of your first wave of cases or preparing for your second:
1. Robust screening process
Triage is a core component of preventing facility overcrowding, along with guiding providers and patients to the appropriate resources. In the access center, a screening workflow, based on CDC guidelines, will stratify each patient’s exposure risk. Given the rapidly emerging new information, these workflows and screening questions must be quickly alterable as new recommendations are released.
Screening must occur with every potential patient transfer into your network, not selectively or intermittently. This will prevent overlooking medium- and high-risk cases, or even patients with a documented COVID-19 diagnosis, which can occur if clinicians are focused on other reasons for transfer, such as traumatic injury or stroke. The assumption should be that a patient is COVID-19 positive, unless ruled out.
Through an eﬀective screening process, coupled with downstream notifications, your access center can ensure patients are safely managed at every step of the transfer process. At the same time, by extending the reach and influence of your access center as an information hub, you will more readily guide patients and their providers to the appropriate levels of care and treatment venues to avoid overwhelming ED and inpatient resources.