By the time National Influenza Vaccination Week returns December 1–7, flu season will be in full stride and packed emergency departments (ED) nationwide will be feeling the pressure of long ER wait times.
To help support providers during this stressful time, here are a few ways healthcare information technology (HIT) can be used to battle the spread of the flu.
Hospitals may be surprised to find that their electronic health records (EHR) system can play an important role in educating patients on the need for prevention. Contained within a hospital EHR are tools clinicians can use to consistently engage patients on the importance of flu vaccinations and other healthy habits.
If the preventative supports built into an EHR aren’t enough, certain information contained within an EDIS (Emergency Department Information System) can be used to anticipate and manage the influx of flu patients to emergency rooms.
By harnessing the full potential of an integrated HIT system, hospitals can proactively approach flu prevention and potentially decrease ER wait times during this hectic time of the year.
Five months into the 2018 – 2019 flu season, a hospital in Arizona posted 4-hour ER wait times. Not a great experience for that hospital’s patients or their staff.
The 2018 – 2019 flu season spanned 21 weeks and was one of the longest periods on record in the last 10 years. Nearly 61,200 people died from the flu during that season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and more than 647,000 people were hospitalized throughout the United States. While the numbers last year are an improvement from the 2017 – 2018 rates, flu season remains a challenging time for hospitals.
When emergency departments are inundated with a sudden wave of patients, several complications can arise, including:
If emergency departments become overcrowded and hospital resources are maxed out, patient care and satisfaction can suffer. Full utilization of all your healthcare IT is critical during high volume periods. Both a hospital’s EHR and EDIS can help providers prevent flu cases and better manage patient volumes for maximized throughput.
While a majority of adults in 2019 agreed that vaccinations were key to preventing flu related deaths and hospitalizations, an article in CNN Health shows that only 52% of those people planned on getting the shot.
Battling apathy and patients’ busy lives can be tough. However, automatic immunization alerts built into an EHR can be the secret weapon that helps hospitals win that fight for more flu vaccinations.
During peak flu season providers can setup a rule within the EHR—based on specific demographics—that triggers an alert for clinicians to order immunizations. Between October and March, for example, when nurses log in to the EHR to chart or give a medication, this decisions support tool can act as a helpful reminder to engage patients on the need to get immunized.
The EHR can also communicate with state registries to receive information about submitted immunizations from all kinds of systems, including ambulatory and pharmacy settings. Interoperability between the systems can also help limit redundancy and improve care efficiency.
Clinicians and informaticists can also use shared EHR data to prepare for spikes in patient volume. With syndromic surveillance and diagnosis information culled from state registries, hospitals can track the spread of the flu and prepare their teams appropriately.
An EDIS system can work like an efficient EHR for the emergency department. While it does not have the preventive capabilities of the EHR, it can help improve information access and reduce redundancy. These features can help support safe, quality care when patient volumes peak, especially during an outbreak of the flu.
MEDHOST emergency department information system (EDIS) helps clinicians have full visibility into the emergency patient journey. A global view of ER traffic allows doctors and nurses the flexibility and insight they need to see more patients without sacrificing quality of care. In fact, EDIS can provide several critical benefits during a crisis:
The application also allows EDs to add locations and beds to the system when patient volume outnumbers available emergency beds. If beds are placed in hallways during a disaster, for example, EDIS can reflect those additions so that patients are effectively tracked no matter where they are.
Hopefully, the 2019 – 2020 flu season won’t be nearly as long as the previous year’s or as deadly as the one before that. Both EHR and EDIS can be key players in mitigating the impact flu season may have on a hospital and its community. For hospitals and ER leaders who want to learn more about leveraging their healthcare IT to build awareness around flu prevention and better prepare for flu season, MEDHOST is here to help.