The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of health system collaboration while we attend to this public health emergency. In many ways, it afforded us an opportunity to gain insight into our ethos as a collective healthcare community. We are proud to share we have not lost our core principle of why we chose to work in healthcare – to serve our fellow human beings by applying the science, skills, collaboration and compassion we were taught from the generations before us.
Our healthcare systems, Emory Healthcare, Wellstar Health System, Piedmont Healthcare, Grady Health System and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, came together in partnership early in the pandemic, united around the common goal of improving the lives of the community we’re privileged to serve. Meeting daily to share situational awareness, discussing the developing science and dissemination of best practices, confronting supply chain challenges and supporting our community with education and cohesive messaging, our partnership and collaboration proved to be an invaluable community resource against the challenges of COVID-19.
When confronted with a crisis, current state knowledge and forecasting is critically important to mobilizing a response. Data on COVID-19 percent positive tests, hospitalizations and anticipated resource demands proved elusive early in the pandemic. Data tracking was further challenged with frequent changes in definitions and delays in reporting or dissemination.
By meeting daily, we were able to share current system situational awareness that, when combined, provided tremendous insights into the surges, allowing us to better anticipate and prepare resources to meet the growing demand as well as support mitigation efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19. For instance, as opposed to a homogenous spread of disease across our service areas, one could observe that surges were an accumulation of more heterogeneous micro-outbreaks of subpopulations – a long-term care facility in a specific geography or a specific population demographic in another. Our collaboration proved tremendously beneficial in filling this situational awareness gap any one of us would have had individually.
Dissemination of Best Practices
In February, our knowledge of COVID-19 was limited, prompting many questions. What is the full complement of the clinical presentation of COVID-19? What care, treatment protocols and therapeutics result in the best outcomes? How do we best protect our staff? How do we support non-COVID-19 care needs in an era of living with COVID-19?
Over the ensuing months, the speed and amount of information coming at providers was rapid and, at times, bewildering. New information needed to be critically assessed, and information that passed critical review rapidly translated into best practices at the bedside. Through our collaboration, we were able to engage our physician and nursing leaders across our systems and rapidly share developing knowledge and learning trends.
Ultimately, we were able to pool and disseminate best practices in a rapid manner to improve patient outcomes across all of Atlanta, and beyond. We shared best practices within our health systems as well as communications to our patients.
One the biggest lessons we learned from COVID-19 was the fragility of supply chains. Just-in-time supply chains did not afford us with on-hand supply levels necessary to respond to a once-in-a-century pandemic. As demand grew across the globe, nations, states, communities and systems were competing for limited supplies, from personal protective equipment to diagnostic and testing supplies.
Manufacturers were equally impacted in their ability to source raw materials, scale production to meet exponential demand or deliver finished products as travel restrictions mounted. As any single one of us was confronted with a challenge with regards to supplies, we were able to partner to support one another, whether that be sharing a potential supply source, coming together to purchase supplies in bulk or supporting one another with diagnostic testing.
Our community has been overwhelmed with an onslaught of information on COVID-19. Some of the information is critically important, particularly on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, social distancing (staying 6 feet apart) and washing one’s hands frequently – our 3Ws.
We also recognized, however, some of the information was confusing or from conflicting sources, which collectively have not always best served our community. Further, certain segments of our community, particularly African American and LatinX populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 either by prevalence or outcomes, needed dedicated attention.
Our collaboration provided us a critically important opportunity to work together on community education and messaging with consistency. For example, by sharing care protocols and policies, or working together on nomenclature and timing of implementation, we were able to provide a more consistent and stable voice within our community.
This consistent messaging strategy allowed us to amplify a message stronger than any single system could do alone and helped our respective healthcare systems by standardizing internal messaging around care practices. We further extended this to collaborative messaging with marketing and media on the importance of our 3Ws. Similarly, we joined forces to reach out to specific populations disproportionately impacted with messaging on prevention of COVID-19 as well as access to treatment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us in many ways, both professionally and personally. It has caused tremendous morbidity and mortality and created a deep, adverse impact on the communities we serve. It has also caused us to individually and collectively reflect and positively grow as we’ve had to adapt and respond.
At some point in the future, life will undoubtedly return to operations more reminiscent of what we knew before the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look forward to that time, it is our hope that we do not lose sight of what we have all learned during these challenging times and remember the positive impact this healthcare collaboration has had on our communities and providers.