Case Study: Leveraging Technology During a Pandemic

Health systems worldwide face unprecedented challenges in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, which thrusts IT systems to the forefront. Having the capacity to connect electronically to patients is a critical mission.Battling the COVID-19 pandemic requires a range of defenses. These encompass executing a plan to assemble and arrange the necessary tools and apparatus to perform an operation for administering virtual care to keep infected patients from spreading the virus. Suddenly, all health systems had to shift their care delivery methods and strategies. We are providing a case study of a medical practice that is implementing innovative approaches to respond to this pandemic. We selected Morrow Family Medicine, just north of Atlanta, Georgia. Morrow Family Medicine is an award-winning practice and the recipient of many “best of class” accolades determined by members of the communities they serve. Morrow Family Medicine has the perfect playbook for practices to follow during any crisis.

Initial Reaction (Radio Show/Podcast)

Like most practices in the U.S., Morrow Family Medicine was closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation. Unlike many medical practices, Morrow Family Medicine had an established weekly podcast in partnership with North Fulton Business Radio X and has a robust audience of followers.Dr. Morrow immediately took to the airwaves using his platform to provide comfort and calm to his patients and followers. At the time, no one knew what to expect from COVID-19. Most media reports were hit-and-miss, sometimes reliable, and sometimes not, which spread panic and fear.Further, individuals who were not medical experts used social media to convey speculation and suspicion. Dr. Morrow was able to communicate effectively and quickly on a large scale to his audience. Hearing directly from Dr. Morrow gave his patients reassurance and comfort. He also offered practical and fact-based guidance, unlike other misinformed sources.

Communication (Patient Portal)

In addition to the podcast, Morrow Family Medicine leveraged their patient portal for direct patient engagement and some email marketing tools for broad/direct patient communication. As opposed to the podcast, which went out to a more general audience, the patient portal and email were targeted exclusively to the patients of Morrow Family Practice.

The practice sent customized messages for describing what to expect, how to access care, and how to reach providers. It was also another opportunity to offer additional comfort and reassurance.

Messaging (Website, Phones)

If the podcast and portal were not enough, the staff immediately went into crisis response mode. Patients with existing appointments were rescheduled with virtual visits, the phone lines were opened for direct access to providers, and prescription refills/referrals were managed electronically.

The website was also recast with up-to-date information about COVID-19 and procedural changes in real-time.

Virtual Care (Telehealth)

Additionally, the practice moved its entire medical practice and all staff members into a virtual clinic setting. Staff and providers continued to coordinate and manage patient care. Virtual visits were operational within a matter of hours from the shelter-in-place orders.

Controlling the Spread (Mobile App)

Patients with suspected COVID-19 were given urgent status and were directed to the testing centers and given instructions on how to contain the virus from spreading to others.As restrictions eased, the practice implemented innovative and strict guidelines for social distancing and disinfecting. They executed a “stay in your car until we notify you” policy. The parking lot became the waiting room. Patients would check-in using the Phreesia mobile app from their vehicles.

When exam rooms became available, the staff would disinfect the room, and then notify the patient to come directly to the exam room, avoiding any interaction with the front office staff. Patient volume was controlled to allow for social distancing. Collections of co-pays and co-insurance were also managed via the app.

Social Media (Facebook)

During the social distancing stage, the practice turned to social media as another form of communication.

In Summary

The ability of Morrow Family Medicine to respond as rapidly as it did was because they primarily were already prepared for adverse events. While the preparation was not specifically for COVID-19, realistically, they recognized that disasters do not come with advance notice. Morrow Family Medicine was one of the first practices in the U.S. to be fully integrated on an EHR. In 2006, Dr. Morrow was the winner of the HIMSS Physician IT Leadership Award. HIMSS only awards one individual who has demonstrated significant leadership around applying IT to the needs of their patients. When considering that there are over 900,000 physicians in the United States, this designation is impressive. Most of the patients who belong to Morrow Family Medicine were already accustomed (and trained) on the automation platforms in use at the clinic. The other contributing factor was the robust lines of communication previously established by the practice.

Here is a summary of all the communication tools the practice deployed during COVID-19:

  • A radio show/podcast
  • Patient portal
  • Website
  • Apps
  • Social Media
  • Phone system

These strategies were not new ones started in response to COVID-19. Dr. Morrow built his practice on the premise of over-communicating with his patients and making access easy. The tag line of the practice is, “Technologically Advanced Old Fashion Medical Practice.” Call it old school, but Dr. Morrow subscribes to the concept of having a genuine patient-provider relationship, which means he returns phone calls and responds to messages. Being accessible to his patients is a top priority. The technology used enables improved access, not in the place of deterring personal access. This distinction is important to highlight because technology should never become the face of the practice.

Morrow Family Medicine has always embraced the concept of electronic patient communication and engagement. So, while responding to COVID-19 was unplanned, it was not a new concept to the practice or their patients. Although to be fair, the parking lot becoming the new waiting room was novel, albeit only temporary. The practice was prepared and could engage rapidly and virtually without having to panic or scramble to get set-up. Dr. Morrow credits his staff and providers, but his willingness to embrace technology and his deep passion for being accessible to his patients does not go unnoticed. Practices like Morrow Family Medicine should be a model for preparing and responding to a crisis. Job well done!

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