St. Tammany Health System: COVID-19 support throughout the community

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to healthcare systems around the world. One of the most notable changes has been shifting care to patients in their own home settings. In the face of nationwide stay-at-home orders for patients’ safety, reluctance or inability to enter healthcare facilities, it remains imperative that healthcare providers can reach patients effectively across all settings.  

St. Tammany Health System (STHS), one of the largest healthcare systems in western St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, was looking for a solution to connect with and engage patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There were multiple stakeholders in play, however. The chosen solution needed to be beneficial for:

  • Healthcare providers — reaching patients in a variety of settings
  • Patients — seeking regular touch points from providers
  • Emergency Department (ED) navigators — monitoring high-acuity patients

After researching various platforms for patient outreach, the STHS team chose to implement GetWell Loop’s COVID-19 care plans, which could be utilized in a number of different ways that would support each one of these stakeholders.

A solution in sight

One benefit of STHS choosing the COVID-19 care plans from GetWell Loop was being able to implement an established tool quickly during the pandemic. STHS first began using the GetWell Loop tool before the novel coronavirus outbreak, going live with the ED Discharge pathway in January 2020. The implementation of GetWell Loop’s COVID-19 care plans was a smooth transition for both the providers and staff who would be utilizing it.

GetWellNetwork facilitated a collaboration call between STHS and multiple other facilities within the United States that had previously implemented the tool. These facilities had already begun to see an influx of COVID-19 testing volume in their states, allowing STHS to identify what was working versus what was not for the other facilities, which enabled STHS to incorporate these learnings as their own implementation evolved. 

By implementing the GetWell Loop COVID-19 care plan, STHS was able to rapidly gain knowledge around their own COVID-19 population census. It was a win/win solution during a difficult time for the organization, patients, providers and community alike. 

Seamless coordination between patients and providers

STHS had ED navigators in place to provide and obtain timely and accurate information to and from patients. Care teams are now enabled to get the right information to the right patient at the right time. Patients can be confident in the responses of their care teams and know they are guided in the right direction for the most appropriate level of care.

Many patients have expressed gratitude for the seamless, bidirectional communication the GetWell Loop and ED navigation team provides. Quick, bidirectional communication during isolation was of the utmost importance, and GetWell Loop enabled them to feel heard and cared for, while still giving valuable time back to the care teams.

Digital support for a very real situation

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, STHS, along with many other health systems, had to shift from primarily conducting face-to-face encounters to telehealth encounters (both telephonic and video). It was crucial for healthcare providers to convey understanding and express true empathy while communicating with patients in an entirely new way, marking a big change in how healthcare is delivered.

“The virtual/digital concept was on track with where we were trying to move our providers and community,” said Julie Nevers, MN, RN, AVP, Care Coordination at STHS. “From a healthcare system and community perspective, we don’t see this type of technology going away. We foresee this type of digital technology expanding throughout healthcare systems and becoming expected within communities.”

By providing support via a digital care management tool like GetWell Loop, STHS can actively engage and communicate with patients instead of spending time making rote phone calls that may or may not lead to patient interaction. This tool also assists with patient engagement, and is easy to utilize.

GetWell Loop provided patients with reassurance due to real-time interactions with on-premise staff. GetWellNetwork also offered enhanced educational resources from the CDC and WHO including, but not limited to, instructions on proper handwashing and home isolation. Patients enrolled on the COVID-19 care plan are provided with educational and supportive material daily via GetWell Loop.

Along with the ED navigators, GetWell Loop was used for STHS’ on-site COVID-19 testing stations located within the community. Patients in this situation were provided with the GetWell Loop COVID-19 care plans to capture different points of care. This extended to primary care providers for those who were tested in other places outside of STHS.

Familiar people for a familiar task

Prior to and continuing into the pandemic, the STHS ED navigators were monitoring the already established GetWell Loop ED Discharge care plan. The team was familiar with the platform and how to navigate care using GetWell Loop when COVID-19 struck. It was only natural that the ED navigators would be the front-line staff managing the COVID-19 GetWell Loop dashboard out of the Emergency Department during the pandemic.

In addition to the symptomatic COVID-19 swabbed patients, high-acuity patients at highest risk for major complications and/or admission, identified by the ED and community physicians, are enrolled into the COVID-19 GetWell Loop. ED navigators monitor these patients very closely, with daily contact, until resolution of symptoms. Telehealth and community visits are also available and conducted by ED Physicians, STHS Primary Care offices or Home Health, if warranted.  

Over 244 high-acuity COVID-19 swabbed patients were enrolled into the GetWell Loop COVID-19 care plan, avoiding revisits to the ED and/or admissions to the facility. This process continues to assist with bed capacity and throughput issues within a medium-sized non-teaching community hospital.

At the launch of GetWell Loop’s COVID-19 care plan with STHS, the ED navigation team was originally staffed Monday through Friday. However, the program quickly proved the need for expanding the resources to seven days a week. The ED navigators are now present seven days a week, promoting consistency in responders and, more importantly, responses. This allows the interactions via GetWell Loop to be highly personalized yet steady across patients.

Patient responses were effusive, emphasizing the thoroughness of the care they received. 

“They reminded me every day to check in and they were thorough,” wrote one satisfied patient, with another claiming their care was “very thorough and very caring. Amazing follow up.”

“[It’s] nice to have messages responded to so promptly and politely,” shared a third. “[You] can tell that they care.”

In fact, the expression of care was a common refrain for patients under St. Tammany’s care and using the GetWell Loop care plans. 

Another went on to say, “I felt cared for, and they asked enough questions to get the information they needed, but I never felt like it was too much to answer.”

STHS’s consistency in care and responsiveness to the GetWell Loop dashboard was a key component in fostering buy-in from patients and trust throughout the community.

A win/win situation

Patients frequently shared positive feedback about STHS and the GetWell Loop COVID-19 care plan, but the metrics also spoke loudly. 

Since launch, 3432 have been enrolled, 907 patient comments have been sent and responded to, and 138 red alerts have been managed and resolved by the STHS ED navigators using GetWell Loop’s COVID-19 care plan. In fact, 87% of patients who used the GetWell Loop COVID-19 care plan with STHS reported that they were “Very Satisfied” with the experience. 

By creating connections and quickly addressing patients’ needs, STHS saw a decrease in the number of patients returning to the Emergency Department and a decrease in inpatient admissions, both leading to increased availability of ED and inpatient hospital beds for the sickest of the sick. 

Positive metrics, healthcare system support and an emphasis on patient engagement has helped STHS carry out its vision to strengthen the health of its community with compassion, innovation and partnership.