Dynamic disaster response
Supporting patient and hospital needs
The next step in the disaster preparedness cycle is adjusting to changing needs during the disaster. The pediatric inpatient population was less affected initially by COVID-19, allowing hospitalists to support the unpredicted needs of the pandemic. A dynamic and flexible physician response is important to disaster preparedness.
As there has been a continued shift to telehealth during the pandemic, our group has engaged in telehealth calls related to COVID-19. Seizing these new opportunities not only provided additional services to our patients, but also strengthened community support, physician worth, and the hospital’s financial state. This is also an opportunity for higher-risk clinicians or quarantined faculty to offer patient care during the pandemic.
Cram et al. describe the importance of “unspecializing” during the COVID-19 pandemic.11 Starting discussions early with adult and pediatric critical care colleagues is vital. Hospitalists take care of a broad patient population, and therefore, can adapt to where the clinical need may be. Optimizing and expanding our skill sets can bring value to the hospital system during uncertain times.
Hospitalists are also instrumental for patient flow during the pandemic. To address this, our group partnered with hospital leadership from many different areas including administration, nursing, emergency medicine, critical care, and ancillary services. By collaborating as one cohesive hospital unit, we were able to efficiently develop, implement, and update best clinical care guidelines and algorithms for COVID-19–related topics such as testing indications, admission criteria, infection control, and proper personal protective equipment use. Lastly, working with specialists to consolidate teams during a pandemic presents an opportunity for hospitalists to highlight expertise while bringing value to the hospital.
Unique staffing situations related to COVID-19
Different from other disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic affected older or immunocompromised staff in a unique way. Beauhaus et al. note that 20% of the physician workforce in the United Sates is between 55 and 64 years of age, and 9% are 65 years and older.12 Hospitalist groups should focus on how to optimize and preserve their workforce, specifically those that are higher risk due to age or other health conditions.
We used a tiered guide to safely accommodate our physicians that were determined to be at higher-risk for complications of COVID-19; these recommendations included limiting exposure to patients with acute respiratory illnesses and shifting some providers to a different clinical environments with a lower exposure risk, such as telemedicine visits.
Other COVID-19 preparedness considerations that affected our group in particular include the changes in learner staffing. Similar to attending down-staffing to encourage physical distancing during low census, learners (residents, medical students, and physician assistant students) also experienced decreased hours or suspension of rotations. To maintain optimal patient care, adjusting to changing disaster needs may include assessing attendings’ capacity to assume responsibilities typically supported by learners.
Due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, we have had to maintain a dynamic response while adjusting to changing and ongoing needs during recovery. Creating a measured and staggered approach helps facilitate a smooth transition back to nonemergent activities. The education of learners, academic and scholarly work, and administrative duties will resume, but likely in a different steady state. Also, awareness of physician burnout and fatigue is critical as an institution enters a phase of recovery.