Even in a Pandemic, Innovation Starts with Provider Engagement

Theo Koury, MD, President of Vituity

Theo Koury , MD

President of Vituity

Published June 05, 2020

Even in a Pandemic, Innovation Starts with Provider Engagement

For healthcare leaders, the imperative to develop innovative approaches to patient care delivery has never been more critical. From access issues to personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, the coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the deep flaws in our healthcare system. To regain patient trust in the safety of the hospital setting for emergency care, we must develop flexible, scalable, and effective delivery systems that meet patients exactly where they are.

When it comes to innovation, engaged physician champions are a healthcare organization’s greatest asset — and this has never been truer than during the pandemic. Providers represent the most direct and trusted connection to patients and are often first to recognize problems impacting care. They are also far better positioned to co-create and implement workable, sustainable solutions.

But too often, physician engagement programs fail to gain traction. Time pressures, clinical silos, and an “us vs. them” culture between leadership and medical staff can destroy promising ideas before they get started. This friction is exacerbated by the current public health crisis, which has placed clinicians at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and anxious about their personal health, family safety, and long-term job security.

So how can you remove barriers to provider engagement and empower your workforce to innovate, even in the middle of a global pandemic? Here are three practical steps for every hospital and health system.

1. Focus teams on patients.

Keeping teams focused on the human impact of change resonates with a fundamental value most providers share—wanting to help people. Elevating the focus provides a different vantage point for all involved, recognizing they all have a common interest.

To understand the shift that happens when we put patients at the center of care, consider the example of behavioral health patients in the emergency department (ED). For decades, emergency physicians didn’t feel capable of helping these patients beyond the short-term fix. Patients were boarded in the department for days, resulting in worsening outcomes and considerable human suffering. The arrival of COVID-19 greatly exacerbated this plight by shuttering outpatient clinics and supportive community organizations. For many patients, the ED is currently the only viable source for mental health care.

In light of recent expansions to telehealth guidelines, patient diagnoses and treatment plans can be initiated and often completed entirely without the patient having to leave the comfort and security of their home. Driven by improving outcomes for this population, these new patient-centric models of psychiatric care improve clinical outcomes while also saving ED resources, which is critical in our current healthcare environment.

2. Empower providers.

To unleash the hidden potential, leadership must first set the tone by clearly expressing the priority of supporting providers to share ideas and improve care. This talk must then be backed by removing obstacles to engagement and innovation.

Within each health system, there are likely a few clinicians with ideas of how to improve one or more aspects of their team’s mission, but they’re not empowered to implement them. One example is the need for fast access to the latest clinical guidance and operational best practices to make the most informed patient care decision.

To meet this pressing need for real-time education, clinical leaders at Vituity are pioneering new ways to deliver up-to-the-minute knowledge, including safety checklists for providers and insights on cultivating personal and team-based provider resilience and wellness. Leveraging webinar-based learning models, supplemented by case studies from medical directors across the country, clinicians have access to a broad peer network to stay informed, exchange knowledge and support, and ultimately better serve their patients.

The development of these resources would not be possible without the democratic partnership model that distinguishes Vituity and empowers our clinical teams to rapidly deploy solutions that have an immediate impact on care delivery as well as a long-term role in redefining best practices.

3. Recognize that innovation doesn’t happen overnight.

Innovative programs often start strong and then hit road bumps. But as disheartening as setbacks can be, teams that push through are more likely to succeed because they can learn and adapt. This requires patience, perseverance, and a focus on achieving the desired result.

To better understand this, picture an ED 20 years ago. The conventional wisdom of the time dictated that every patient had to be triaged first, then registered before they could be bedded and eventually seen by a provider. As a result, patients would back up into the waiting room during peak hours because of an outdated, rigid, sequential process. Over time, new approaches such as Rapid Medical Evaluation® (RME) paved the way for a more streamlined and effective method of patient triage and is still seen as today’s standard.

The coronavirus pandemic presents an open invitation to develop even more flexible and proactive models of emergency care. For example, Vituity has been working on launching a virtual ED that guides the patient through the safest, most appropriate care experience. Patients considering an ED visit can initiate the encounter from home by clicking a link on the hospital’s website. This crisis-forged solution solves the perennial problems of ED crowding, soaring overhead costs, and provider shortages. During the pandemic, it has the added benefits of reducing face-to-face contact and preserving PPE.

In summary

Physician engagement is a catalyst for healthcare innovation—but it rarely happens by itself. Leadership needs to nurture a culture that empowers providers and values their involvement. Start today by focusing your care teams on a worthy cause, encouraging them to make meaningful change, and celebrating failures as well as successes.

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