Technology and infection control during COVID-19 and beyond

By: Melissa Miller, Clinical Information Specialist, Central Health NL & Dr. Chris O’Connor, President & Founder, Think Research

It all started with a really simple idea.

As cases of COVID-19 started to turn up in Newfoundland and Labrador, we felt that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus was to actually stop it from physically moving around.

Central Health had already taken measures to limit visitors coming in, but we knew we could do more to reduce unnecessary foot traffic within our facilities. Our leaders were asked for ideas on how to do this, and our Pharmacy Director was keen to engage the team to see if we could make this happen. When we took a good look at the way orders were being filled in the acute care and long-term care settings, we saw a clear opportunity.

Every day pharmacy technicians had to access multiple patient care areas to pick up orders and take them back to the pharmacy. This resulted in dozens of trips per day that required the use of valuable personal protective equipment (PPE), increased risk for patients and technicians and risk of moving the virus to different locations – medicine, surgery, ICU. It was clear to us that  some of those visits simply didn’t need to happen.

The right technology was in place already – we just needed to put it to work.

Central Health and Think Research have been working together now for several years to adopt technology that will help the health system work more efficiently. It’s safe to say that the global pandemic has accelerated the speed of that adoption.

The EntryPoint software allows physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dietitians to enter those orders and send them directly and securely to the pharmacy. No need to write anything out on paper. No need for a technician to make extra trips to pick up the orders.

All we needed was some very simple messaging to drive home why it was so important for everyone to make the move online. We sent out a note reminding our team that “the virus doesn’t move, we move it.”

We asked everyone to make the shift for the safety of our patients, our colleagues and our community. Clinicians who had never used the system before started using it. We knew we were having success in cutting the foot traffic at a critical time.

We have even started to pilot EP use at home via virtual private networks, allowing some of the Central Health physicians to use the system from home. Now our physicians can write out complex prescriptions without having to return to the hospital and risk further exposure or give long and intricate orders over the phone, therefore decreasing the risk of communication errors.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have been fortunate that the number of COVID-19 cases has remained relatively low and is continuing to trend in the right direction. But we now also feel more prepared for a potential second wave of this disease and, frankly, for the future.

It’s been amazing to see how quickly things have evolved. In a matter of weeks, the team has seen significant shifts in usage. When a project runs really quickly, there is often an assumption that safety gets left behind and things can fall through the cracks. In this case, improved safety was one of the most important outcomes.

Patients and residents are always number one in our minds. But, especially during a pandemic, we need to think about the safety of physicians, nurses and hospital staff too. Along with PPE and infection control measures, technology like this is one more tool in the belt that should not be underestimated.