As U.S. health care systems prepare for inpatient surges linked to hospitalizations of critically ill COVID-19 patients, two hospitalists with med-peds training (combined training in internal medicine and pediatrics) have launched an innovative solution to help facilities deal with the challenge.
The Pediatric Overflow Planning Contingency Response Network (POPCoRN network) has quickly linked almost 400 physicians and other health professionals, including hospitalists, attending physicians, residents, medical students, and nurses. The network wants to help provide more information about how pediatric-focused institutions can safely gear up to admit adult patients in children’s hospitals, in order to offset the predicted demand for hospital beds for patients with COVID-19.
According to the POPCoRN network website (www.popcornetwork.org), the majority of providers who have contacted the network say they have already started or are committed to planning for their pediatric facilities to be used for adult overflow. The Children’s Hospital Association has issued a guidance on this kind of community collaboration for children’s hospitals partnering with adult hospitals in their community and with policy makers.
“We are a network of folks from different institutions, many med-peds–trained hospitalists but quickly growing,” said Leah Ratner, MD, a second-year fellow in the Global Pediatrics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and cofounder of the POPCoRN network. “We came together to think about how to increase capacity – both in the work force and for actual hospital space – by helping to train pediatric hospitalists and pediatrics-trained nurses to care for adult patients.”
A web-based platform filled with a rapidly expanding list of resources, an active Twitter account, and utilization of Zoom networking software for webinars and working group meetings have facilitated the network’s growth. “Social media has helped us,” Dr. Ratner said. But equally important are personal connections.
“It all started just a few weeks ago,” added cofounder Ashley Jenkins, MD, a med-peds hospital medicine and general academics research fellow in the division of hospital medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “I sent out some emails in mid-March, asking what other people were doing about these issues. Leah and I met as a result of these initial emails. We immediately started connecting with other health systems and it just expanded from there. Once we knew that enough other systems were thinking about it and trying to build capacity, we started pulling the people and information together.”
A third or more of those on the POPCoRN contact list are also participating as volunteers on its varied working groups, including health system operation groups exploring the needs of three distinct hospital models: freestanding children’s hospitals; community hospitals, which may see small numbers of children; and integrated mixed hospitals, which often means a pediatric hospital or pediatric units located within an adult hospital.
An immediate goal is to develop high-yield informational “one-pagers,” culling essential clinical facts on a variety of topics in adult inpatient medicine that may no longer be familiar to working pediatric hospitalists. These one-pagers, designed with the help of network members with graphic design skills, address topics such as syncope or chest pain or managing exacerbation of COPD in adults. They draw upon existing informational sources, encapsulating practical information tips that can be used at the bedside, including test workups, differential diagnoses, treatment approaches, and other pearls for providers. Drafts are reviewed for content by specialists, and then by pediatricians to make sure the information covers what they need.
Also under development are educational materials for nurses trained in pediatrics, a section for outpatient providers redeployed to triage or telehealth, and information for other team members including occupational, physical, and respiratory therapists. Another section offers critical care lectures for the nonintensivist. A metrics and outcomes working group is looking for ways to evaluate how the network is doing and who is being reached without having to ask frontline providers to fill out surveys.
Dr. Ratner and Dr. Jenkins have created an intentional structure for encouraging mentoring. They also call on their own mentors – Ahmet Uluer, DO, director of Weitzman Family Bridges Adult Transition Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Brian Herbst Jr., MD, medical director of the Hospital Medicine Adult Care Service at Cincinnati Children’s – for advice.
Beyond the silos
Pediatric hospitalists may have been doing similar things, working on similar projects, but not necessarily reaching out to each other across a system that tends to promote staying within administrative silos, Dr. Uluer said. “Through our personal contacts in POPCoRN, we’ve been able to reach beyond the silos. This network has worked like medical crowd sourcing, and the founders have been inspirational.”
Dr. Herbst added, “How do we expand bandwidth and safely expand services to take young patients and adults from other hospitals? What other populations do we need to expand to take? This network is a workplace of ideas. It’s amazing to see what has been built in a few weeks and how useful it can be.”
Med-peds hospitalists are an important resource for bridging the two specialties. Their experience with transitioning young adults with long-standing chronic conditions of childhood, who have received most of their care at a children’s hospital before reaching adulthood, offers a helpful model. “We’ve also tried to target junior physicians who could step up into leadership roles and to pull in medical students – who are the backbone of this network through their administrative support,” Dr. Jenkins said.
Marie Pfarr, MD, also a med-peds trained hospital medicine fellow at Cincinnati Children’s, was contacted in March by Dr. Jenkins. “She said they had this brainstorm, and they were getting feedback that it would be helpful to provide educational materials for pediatric providers. Because I have an interest in medical education, she asked if I wanted to help. I was at home struggling with what I could contribute during this crazy time, so I said yes.”
Dr. Pfarr leads POPCoRN’s educational working group, which came up with a list of 50 topics in need of one-pagers and people willing to create them, mostly still under development. The aim for the one-pagers is to offer a good starting point for pediatricians, helping them, for example, to ask the right questions during history and physical exams. “We also want to offer additional resources for those who want to do a deeper dive.”
Dr. Pfarr said she has enjoyed working closely with medical students, who really want to help. “That’s been great to see. We are all working toward the same goal, and we help to keep each other in check. I think there’s a future for this kind of mobilization through collaborations to connect pediatric to adult providers. A lot of good things will come out of the network, which is an example of how folks can talk to each other. It’s very dynamic and changing every day.”
One of those medical students is Chinma Onyewuenyi, finishing her fourth year at Baylor College of Medicine. Scheduled to start a med-peds residency at Geisinger Health on July 1, she had completed all of her rotations and was looking for ways to get involved in the pandemic response while respecting the shelter-in-place order. “I had heard about the network, which was recruiting medical students to play administrative roles for the working groups. I said, ‘If you have anything else you need help with, I have time on my hands.’”
Ms. Onyewuenyi says she fell into the role of a lead administrative volunteer, and her responsibilities grew from there, eventually taking charge of all the medical students’ recruiting, screening, and assignments, freeing up the project’s physician leaders from administrative tasks. “I wanted something active to do to contribute, and I appreciate all that I’m learning. With a master’s degree in public health, I have researched how health care is delivered,” she said.
“This experience has really opened my eyes to what’s required to deliver care, and just the level of collaboration that needs to go on with something like this. Even as a medical student, I felt glad to have an opportunity to contribute beyond the administrative tasks. At meetings, they ask for my opinion.”