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New medication management recommendations can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

by Nicole Fink

Published on 5/13/2020

Nursing homes and adult care facilities across the globe are being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows more than 10,000 residents and staff members in long-term care centers in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 infections, accounting for over 50 percent of COVID-19 deaths in some states. According to the World Health Organization, up to half of the COVID-19-related deaths in Europe are occurring in long-term care locations.

“Nursing facility residents are a high-risk population, and there are unique challenges when caring for them,” said Walter C. Kerschl, MD, senior director and chief medical officer, Cerner. “Caregivers must be acutely aware of the best ways to help protect this vulnerable group, while also protecting staff from unnecessary exposure and risk.”

One in four Medicare patients hospitalized for acute illness is discharged to a skilled nursing facility. While those admissions have decreased due to temporary delays on non-essential procedures and surgeries, they’re likely to rebound as health care organizations ease restrictions and expand care.

During the transition of care, hospitals and nursing homes will need to work together to ensure patient and provider safety. One opportunity for collaboration is prescribing patient medications, which can have a meaningful impact in the fight against COVID-19 by minimizing touchpoints between nursing home caregivers and patients. The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine recommends reducing interactions through new, simpler methods of medication management. This can be done in many ways, including discontinuing and updating prescribed medications.

Cerner is making it easier for physicians to adopt this approach by providing an alert in the PowerChart™ electronic health record that encourages prescriptions for hand-held inhalers instead of nebulizers for patients who have the physical and cognitive ability to safely use them. Unlike nebulizers, hand-held inhalers don’t aerosolize viral particles and don’t require a staff member to place and position them on the patient. The less contact that happens between a patient and clinician, the less likely the chance for spreading COVID-19.

Experts at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy say considerations like these for prescriptions can improve patient and provider safety and also give staff more time for other direct care activities. The American Society for Clinical Pathology also provides guidance on how to reduce medication burden during COVID-19. If adopted when possible, these evidence-based recommendations can help reduce interactions and touchpoints at your organization:

  • Prescribe long-acting medications instead of short-acting
  • Discontinue non-essential herbals/supplements as well as medications that no longer provide benefit
  • Consider liquid forms of medication rather than tablets, which are often crushed, to prevent airborne particles and contaminants
  • Consolidate medication administration times for patients with multiple prescriptions

“As leaders, we must discover innovative ways to continually improve care quality,” Kerschl said. “Cerner is proud to help providers leverage our technology with new methods that help reduce COVID-19 exposure to both residents and staff so they can continue providing high-quality care in this new normal.”

Patients and providers at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are at risk for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. Using technology and other strategies, to reduce in-person interactions while administering medicine can help flatten the curve and may save lives.

Cerner is committed to helping providers transform the future of long-term and post-acute care. Learn more here.

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