Lessons We Learned to Maintain Quality Patient Care after One Year of COVID
By George Hampton
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization took the monumental step of declaring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 spread as a global pandemic.
In an instant, the world changed. And, as part of the healthcare ecosystem, we needed to change with it.
For everyone working in a hospital, the past year has been tough. The challenges created by COVID-19 – from adopting social distancing practices to overhauling protocols to reduce the risks of virus spread – drastically altered how we each delivered on our roles to help hospitals deliver the best patient care.
Like providers, our biomedical technicians were on the front lines as patient volumes quickly escalated. With our national footprint including early California hotspots, our technicians were among the first to recognize the need to rethink our practices due to this highly contagious respiratory disease. We were humbled by the experience to work collaboratively with hospital leaders and partners as information about COVID was unfolding around us.
A year ago, none of us could have predicted that we would still be on such high alert. We are optimistic as the nation ramps up getting shots in arms this spring, as we now have amazing vaccinations to combat COVID-19 and to bring the promise of a return to our former lifestyles.
While our TKA team is practiced in applying problem-solving talents and innovative thinking, this was a completely new challenge for everyone. Against that backdrop, we captured many new learnings for defining effective HTM performance, and we saw how protecting against coronavirus reinforced many best practices for how we can effectively support our hospital partners. We offered some early guidance on how to ease stress on your HTM program, but we wanted to share other important insights as we hit this unprecedented one-year milestone:
- Patient safety starts with sanitization: Hospitals, by nature, demand the highest standards of cleanliness, but sick people carry germs. COVID-19 came with a high degree of transmission, and – as we continued to learn about this new disease – we needed to ensure our protocols prevented its spread. Our READI program, which stands for Reliable Equipment Available Disinfected Inspected, provided the solid structure for how our TKA teams prioritized sanitization and repair efforts on the most critical equipment needed in caring for COVID patients, including ventilators in the earliest months. To be honest, our biomedical technicians delivered a level of sanitization exceeding manufacturers’ standards for cleaning equipment. This gets to the heart of our commitment to build the confidence and trust of healthcare administrators, who could see our teams were doing everything we could to mitigate risk for their hospitals and patients.
- Supply chains must be nurtured: You need an HTM partner who understands and anticipates how trends impact different scenarios. As the people who take care of the equipment that takes care of your patients, we knew ventilators would be in high demand from the get-go, because we recognized coronavirus attacks as a respiratory ailment. Before the pandemic was even named as such, we were leveraging our established procurement networks to secure that equipment – and, not to be overlooked, the requisite parts to keep these life-saving devices ready and working at our hospital partners. You can’t expect to build a two-way relationship for open supply lines after a shortage or rush is already in play.
- People come first: Your people are responding to crisis needs, but never forget to give them space to process what is happening around them – including what they can control and what they can’t. You need to provide the resources to navigate their personal needs, as well as support them in their changing roles. At TKA, that meant offering additional training on how to maintain equipment specific to COVID-19 testing and treatment, so our biomedical technicians would be at the top of their game in a moment that matters. Because we are committed to developing win-win relationships with our healthcare partners, many of our hospitals automatically included our technicians when they rolled out vaccines to their first-line staff. In other cases, we proactively secured vaccines for our people, who are consistently working on COVID wards.
- Be open to change: This coronavirus, as we were told from the beginning, was novel. Because it was new, we didn’t know much about its spread – remember being advised to wipe down groceries – and what treatments would be best. Scientific and medical research evolved in the minute, meaning that recommendations and regulations, in turn, changed just as quickly. We kept our ears open to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies on how to do our daily work in the safest ways possible. For most of us in healthcare, a crisis is usually limited to a geographic region, but crisis hitting simultaneously from coast to coast required traditional response playbooks to be rewritten in the moment. We worked around obstacles created by COVID isolation rooms to find creative solutions to access equipment for equipment and cleaning, and we revised sanitization schedules as patient volumes escalated – all while continuing to perform preventative maintenance on all scheduled equipment. Our TKA teams took in the information, and we adapted smartly – hospital leaders need to have trusted partners who pivot quickly to ensure the facility has the necessary support to deliver quality patient care.
- Problem-solving is critical: The biggest innovation in this pandemic has been the speed with which we have seen effective vaccines be developed using biotechnological breakthroughs to train our bodies to fight the virus – not to mention accelerated testing, government approval and roll out. On a local level, our biomedical technicians put on their thinking caps to deliver in critical moments, including using 3-D printers to help deliver face shields when suppliers couldn’t meet demand. We also turned to teleconferencing tools to troubleshoot issues when a machine went down, which allowed us to reduce the number of people physically at the location. The key lesson? Trust your people to get to the root cause of an obstacle and find the best way to get around, over or under that hurdle.
Hospitals need to trust life-saving medical equipment is at the ready when needed. Your hospital’s response to the pandemic at every stage should give you critical insights into how effective your HTM program is as the foundation to today’s patient care. Crises will continue to happen, and we have gained so much critical knowledge in this past year on how to best prepare our hospital partners. Use this moment to assess whether your HTM program was stressed during the pandemic. When you identify gaps or risks to quality patient care, our team is here with a proven approach that will elevate your program.
George Hampton is CEO of TKA.
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