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Responding to the COVID-19 health care surge

Published on 4/9/2020

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

Across the globe, venues that were once home to concerts, sporting events, conventions and even military personnel are quickly being transformed into temporary hospitals to help health care systems deal with the overwhelming COVID-19 outbreak and the surge of new patients. Many of these makeshift health care sites are serving as pressure relief valves, backing up full-service hospitals in caring for critical and non-critical patients. For example:

  • The 100-acre ExCel convention center in London is now home to the 4,000-bed Nightingale Hospital.
  • Rutland Regional Medical Center in Vermont has repurposed a local university’s sports arena into an alternative care site for non-infected patients.
  • St. Joseph’s Health in New Jersey is using outdoor tents for testing to reduce crowds in its emergency departments.
  • Municipalities are renting hotel rooms to allow homeless people to shelter in place while being monitored and screened for COVID-19.
  • A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship arrived in New York City and another one in Los Angeles to support the cities’ overcrowded hospitals.

At the time of this post, a survey revealed that three in four U.S. hospitals were already treating confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, and that number is expected to increase as the pandemic races toward its peak. In addition to an influx in patients, supply shortages, limited testing and clinician burnout are compounding the problem.

Across the country, health care organizations are finding temporary, innovative ways to deal with these issues. For example, Circle Health in Massachusetts is experiencing a backorder of camera devices and is temporarily using Ring cameras to monitor patients remotely, which is helping to reduce the risk of infection for clinicians and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE). CoxHealth in Missouri has a shortage of PPE, like many hospitals worldwide, and is 3D printing face shields for providers and front desk attendants.

Health systems are also using scaled-back versions of existing solutions that can be deployed quickly to meet the demands of the pandemic. One example is Cerner Patient Observer, a virtual video and two-way audio tool that allows providers to reduce potential exposure while observing multiple areas, hallways and rooms at the same time from central or mobile monitoring stations. The technology can also be used to virtually triage patients and interact with visitors ─ further limiting unnecessary exposure to staff and patients.

It remains to be seen how many of these provisions and temporary solutions will become the new normal. Health systems clearly need practical solutions now to help them efficiently and effectively address the unique challenges presented by COVID-19.

In the coming days, we’ll share a series of blogs that explore the various stages of surge your health system might face during the pandemic. These topics will include a closer look at preparing for surges, workforce and workflow planning, building and operating field hospitals, as well as IT management during a pandemic.

As the world navigates COVID-19, the health care landscape is changing at lightning speed. It’s critical for our industry to be ready to care for a surge of patients – whether they’re in a hospital, on a Navy ship or inside a convention center.

Cerner’s COVID-19 Surge Capacity Guide provides best practices for providers, governments and other stakeholders who are developing strategies to prepare for and respond to the surge of testing and treatment demands associated with the virus.