Preparing for Outbreak: How Hospitals Brace for Infectious Diseases
To fight infectious diseases, including the new coronavirus, form a facility emergency management team skilled at communicating across disciplines.
The novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly, causing facilities managers all over the world to make sure infectious disease emergency preparedness plans are up to date. But the coronavirus is not the only infectious disease affecting patients today.
The CDC estimates there have been 19 million cases of the flu with 10,000 deaths this season. While the coronavirus is new and not entirely understood yet, the flu strikes every year and always takes a heavy toll. It is vital that hospitals are prepared for outbreak, whether the disease is as rare as the coronavirus or Ebola, or as common as the flu. It’s no longer a matter of if an epidemic strikes, but when.
Let the experts lead
A facility’s emergency management (EM) team is skilled at communicating across disciplines to keep people informed when an epidemic occurs. This specialized skill is not usually part of a clinician practice, so it is important to have experts in distilling information when people may be panicked. Infectious disease response is a multi-disciplinary effort, and an emergency management team’s strength is in the ability to bring together experts, coordinate a response, and develop plans of action.
The EM team should be able to assemble a further team of experts – not committees – who can prepare guidance and communication, serve the EM team as a source point of information, and liaise with their peers to distribute messaging. This team will help reduce miscommunications by guiding through single sources and will not hold up communications by being debated internally.
This is especially key because of the multitude of sources for the public to receive information, including social media, the internet in general and news channels – whether accurate or not. This information can extend to staff directly or through a patient-driven rumor mill. It is vital that healthcare facilities and the providers within be accurately and regularly informed from a single, expert source. Provide regular communication on outbreaks, responses and guidance to facilities teams, and focus on the information from the CDC as the source of truth, not cable TV or a tweet.
Collaborate and identify
While healthcare providers understand infectious disease, standard, droplet and airborne precautions, prehospital providers understand level A, B, C and D protection primarily for chemical emergencies. Understanding these differences will help prevent a miscommunication around the event, especially as disease outbreaks are being identified. Your EM team should connect with local public safety providers and public health departments frequently throughout the epidemic to learn updates and new insights on the disease in question.
In the case of the novel coronavirus, it currently takes several days to confirm if someone is infected. When a patient first presents to a healthcare provider, they are interviewed and assessed to see if they meet the CDC-published criteria of a suspect case. Once identified, the facility will contact the local health department that will review the information. If they believe the patient may have the coronavirus, they will perform lab tests, and the patient then is classified as a patient under investigation (PUI). After the test is completed in three to five days, the CDC will join the hospital and public health teams to manage the patient.
Keep it clean
Healthcare facilities, whether hospitals or drugstore clinics, are a primary focus for patients seeking help with illnesses and are crucial in containing and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. This poses a risk to providers and other patients who may be subject to hospital-acquired infections (HAI), the influenza virus being the most common. The precautions facilities use every day in healthcare – standard, droplet and airborne – as well as screening tools and specialized equipment are the exact tools needed to care for patients and protect workers from these diseases.
During an outbreak or elevated infection times, intake is a necessary added layer to prevent HAI. Place signage prominently in facilities during flu season or other infectious disease outbreaks for patients and visitors to apply a mask if they have symptoms. Masks, hand sanitizer and tissues should be readily available, especially near those signs. It is also encouraged for patients to self-identify to triage teams for evaluation, and if necessary, be placed in a private room. Finally, the appropriate teams must understand how to properly clean both common areas and clinical rooms to further fight the potential spread of disease.
There may only be a handful of the coronavirus in the United States, but the common flu is far deadlier and more widespread. Healthcare facilities must always be prepared for infectious disease outbreaks to prevent the spread of both misinformation and disease. Ensuring experts are collaborating and keeping practices up to date will not only help facilities if an epidemic hits, but when.
Scott Cormier is the Vice President of Emergency Management, Environment of Care (EOC) and Safety at Medxcel, specializing in facilities management, safety, environment of care, and emergency management and provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, saving and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff.