Setting the Standard for COVID-19 Care

By Julie Freeman, Clinical Informatics Specialist, Hamilton Health Sciences

COVID-19 is unlike any other threat we have seen. It has been so dynamic. There were many factors that helped our hospital network cope with the chaos and rapid change of the pandemic’s early days but our commitment to clinical standardization was certainly one of them.

We’ve seen firsthand why taking a standardized approach to hospital care matters. It levels the playing field — not by lowering standards, but by aligning them up to a benchmark that ensures every single one of our patients is getting the best possible care.

As we reflect on the first wave and address the second wave of COVID-19 infection we’re also considering how our approach to clinical standardization, and our use of the clinical content available through our partnership with Think Research, has impacted our pandemic response.

Organizing the Information Overload

Our program supported frontline workers amid the fast-breaking information waves that marked the early days of COVID. With so much news to weed through and protocols changing so quickly, we relied on Think Research to provide up-to-date clinical content and order sets for our team to work with. 

These tools meant that we weren’t putting the onus on frontline doctors and nurses to go home after a long shift and try to read and digest the reams of new information. The ability to educate every physician in our facilities on what is most current is really difficult to do in such a dynamic situation. Our intent was to support our staff, give them peace of mind and keep our network current as the situation evolved. 

Now that the pace of information flow has slowed and we have a better understanding of how to treat COVID-19, the need for standardization hasn’t gone away — it’s shifted.

Layering in Screening

Over the summer, we saw a significant dip in the number of COVID-19 cases. This change gave us the space and time to prepare for the second wave that health officials were universally predicting to arrive in the fall. 

We spent a lot of time working with the COVID-19 screening tool and layering it into every admission order set that we use at Hamilton Health Sciences. When we were dealing with SARS in 2003, the symptoms were very obvious. With COVID-19, they are varied and often non-existent. It’s such an incredibly virulent disease. We need to do our best to screen as thoroughly as possible so we are not bringing someone into our very vulnerable population in a way that they might spread the virus.

Being Wave Two Ready

We’ve now entered the second wave and are preparing for the possibility that our hospitals may need to dedicate space specifically and only for patients who are very sick with COVID-19.

Again, the library of clinical content has supported us in developing a transfer order set so that we can move lower acuity patients out of the main hospital to alternate level of care sites, if needed. Standardization is key to making sure this process is smooth and safe. We can ensure that any patient has the correct set of orders and that we’re sending the right kind of patient to the right place, where their level of care will be appropriate to their needs. 

We hope our hospitals will not be overwhelmed but we also need to be prepared for any situation.

People are still very anxious about COVID-19 but there is also a sense of preparedness. We are focused on what we know and where we are headed with what we know about this disease. We’ve got a much better handle on what the disease is capable of and with an effective way of sharing that information, we’re confident in the high-level of patient care we can provide.