Reflections on COVID-19 safety and infection control strategies
Peter Ziese Business Leader, Monitoring and Analytics, Philips
Estimated reading time: 4-6 minutes
COVID-19 has put patient safety at the forefront of healthcare conversations across the globe, with healthcare organizations quickly adapting to new protocols to make the most of limited resources, adopting new technology, leveraging existing technology in new ways, and defining a ‘new normal’ of patient care from a distance. While patient and clinician safety have always gone hand-in-hand, the pandemic has also made them more intertwined than ever. Equipping clinicians with tools, data, and techniques needed to keep not just patients, but also themselves, out of harm’s way while delivering the best care possible has become critical.
With September 17 marking World Patient Safety Day, we have the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve heard from those on the frontlines in terms of safety, and the solutions that helped them provide quality care, while also keeping infection risk at bay. For me, COVID-19 has highlighted the power of early detection to drive early intervention, how integrated remote monitoring technology can advance infection control in the hospital, and the critical role readily scalable solutions play in managing sudden patient surges.
The fight is not over, but reflection is a key piece of progress, as there is much work to be done to support the scale-up of secure, connected patient monitoring that strengthens networks within health systems and beyond. Here are ways healthcare organizations have helped advance patient safety – from people’s homes, to routine care in the hospital, to surge scenarios – paving a path forward in our efforts to control and respond to the virus:
Staying connected to patients at home
The linchpin of patient safety is having the right patient insights at the right time to make confident care decisions. That’s why we’ve seen telehealth and remote patient monitoring adopted like never before during COVID-19, appealing to both clinicians wishing to maintain line-of-sight into patients’ well-being from their home, and to patients looking for ways to avoid going to the hospital if it’s not necessary. We expect these new ways of care delivery to stick even post-pandemic, with both patients and clinicians benefiting from the convenience and efficiency telehealth provides.
During COVID-19, we’ve seen patients that suffer from non-COVID-19 conditions avoid the hospital due to fear of infection, not only leading to further deterioration of high-acuity patients, but also a financial loss for hospitals. We’ve learned first-hand how our customers are prioritizing digital strategies to stay connected with patients, in hospital and at home, while prioritizing safety. According to Philips’ Future Health Index, when US healthcare professionals were asked what digital health technologies would have most improved their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth solutions and technology that enables monitoring of patients’ vitals from a distance were two of the top three responses. Remote patient monitoring solutions offer care teams a sustainable and scalable way to manage and engage with COVID-19 patients who do not require hospitalization from afar, ensuring the hospital is a safe environment for high-acuity patients who urgently need in-person care.
Beyond caring for non-critical COVID-19 cases from a distance, remote patient monitoring has proved to be particularly useful for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those with chronic or complex conditions and pregnant women. We also have customers such as Healthcare Highways who, faced with COVID-19’s challenges and strained resources, integrated a remote patient monitoring program equipped with biosensor technology to drive patient safety and establish a new way of care delivery. The rapid transformation of many of our customers turning to virtual care in the name of patient and staff safety is remarkable and telling of what the ‘hospital of the future’ might look like.
Relying on remote monitoring in the hospital to reduce clinician-patient interactions
Another key piece to the patient safety puzzle is in-hospital remote monitoring. Not every patient can or should be managed at home – many patients need to be treated in the hospital. That’s why health systems are adopting new tools and practices to reduce the risk of infection. Similar to remote patient monitoring from home, the goal is to catch and alert clinicians of changes in a patient’s condition, enabling intervention hours before a potential adverse effect occurs. When used in the hospital, remote monitoring enables a view into the patient’s data that doesn’t require a physician to constantly be at the patient’s bedside, helping to limit exposure to the virus and preserve PPE, while still providing quality care. We’ve also seen a growth in biometric sensors worn in the hospital that transmit key vital sign data to the bedside monitoring system, allowing clinicians to continuously monitor the patient without putting themselves or the patient at greater risk of infection. Clinicians have also taken advantage of deterioration detection software, which identifies subtle signs of patient deterioration, provides risk scores for each patient, and alerts clinicians when a preset risk threshold is reached.
In addition to safety and workflow benefits, continuous remote monitoring, both in and out of hospital, is particularly important for detecting signs of COVID patient deterioration. Increases in respiratory rate and heart rate occur much earlier in COVID-19 progression than other symptoms, such as a drop in blood oxygenation level. Using connected devices, these trends can be tracked continuously. If a patient’s risk score crosses a preset threshold, the system automatically notifies the caregiver to check on the patient, so we’re not losing precious time until the next routine check. This way, you can potentially avoid a ventilator, or put patients into a structured process in an ICU before they end up there in a rush, improving outcomes and chance at a successful recovery.
Deploying scalable solutions
As health systems continue to experience patient surges, they need ways to quickly and easily elevate their general care area to expand their critical care capacity, and scale-up patient monitoring capabilities within just a few hours. This health crisis has demonstrated a clear need for us to offer customers solutions that provide a complete critical care monitoring solution with all of the equipment needed on demand, instead of having them source high-demand equipment and piece it together in real-time. Healthcare organizations are working with their vendor partners to prepare for ICU ramp ups, and ensure economical, efficient use of hospital resources; truly scalable solutions will be able to handle sudden surges and allow for the speed, flexibility and ease of implementation for advanced critical care monitoring that many of our customers demand during this pressing time.
Beyond scalability, interoperable systems are key to patient safety. Clinicians need to be able to unlock the full potential of health data, openly and securely sharing data and the actionable insights they hold between caregivers, providers and patients. Healthcare organizations are increasingly evaluating whether their vendor is committed to open platforms and in tune with the ever-changing landscape of third-party data generated from connected health devices.
A patient-centric future
While advancing safety has always required an initial investment in training, connectivity and technology, the pay out – lower infection rate, less ICU visits, improved outcomes, reduced costs – has never been more critical: patient and clinician safety is essential in controlling the COVID-19 spread. The pandemic has accelerated and galvanized some of the technology moonshots that were already on the horizon, and there’s no slowing down. Today’s adoption of connected devices will not only evolve both the clinical relevance and confidence of monitoring people in their homes and in the hospital, but also empower patients to engage in their own care journey, advancing both patient and staff safety for years to come.
Business Leader, Monitoring and Analytics, Philips
Dr. Peter Ziese began his clinical career in 1990 at the University Hospital of Tuebingen in Germany, specializing in anesthesiology, with an interest in pediatric and cardiothoracic cases. He further specialized in intensive care and emergency medicine.
In 1997, he joined Hewlett Packard as a clinical consultant and in the following years, took over responsibilities in telemedicine and key account management within the German healthcare organization of Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies. He joined Philips in 2001, working in international management and heading up first the marketing organization for patient monitoring and later on the sales and marketing center for Patient Monitoring and Critical Care Systems for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Dr. Ziese has held numerous leadership positions and today, serves as Business Leader and General Manager for Monitoring & Analytics.