From the Operating Room Table to the Kitchen Table - Can Healthcare Organizations Successfully Adapt to Working From Home?
The coronavirus pandemic has significantly fueled the adoption of telecommuting as thousands of organizations have transitioned to remote working to ensure social distancing. However, while the shift is essential, it may be inapplicable for essential workers, especially healthcare personnel. Can employees work from other locations besides their healthcare facilities? If yes, can the move ensure comfortable working environments and adequate services? In this article, we address work-from-home issues for healthcare organizations.
Clinical and Non-clinical Staff - Work from Home vs. Work from Anywhere?
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, health officials have sensitized the population on the need for social distancing measures as part of curbing the spread. The non-clinical workforce, especially those without patient facing responsibilities, can work with a secure connection from anywhere. Staff with sufficient internet access, direct support from IT consultants, secure software, and a home office, provides the ingredients to enable remote work.
Physician consults with patients online has grown thanks to the adoption of telemedicine. Zoom for healthcare video calls are helping physicians, nurses, and other clinical service providers meet with each other and patients on video calls. Fortunately, for both providers and patients, virtual meetings help curb the spread of coronavirus, lower transport costs, and limit crowding inside hospitals. However, health organizations should always keep Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements front and center. With the right technical support, reimbursement from Medicare and agreements with insurance providers, primary care providers can now seamlessly deliver consultations to patients through telemedicine.
However, all clinical and non-clinical employees need to embrace the risks that come with the use of technology. Increasing security threats are a cause for concern for all stakeholders, primarily due to handling of protected health information (PHI). Hospitals need to train staff to look out for threats such as phishing emails. Organizations also stand to benefit from utilizing cloud-based software for accessibility and secure data storage. There is also a need to encourage personnel to:
- Continually update their software as soon as new updates are released.
- Only use secure networks and VPNs to log into hospital systems including electronic health records (EHRs).
- Use hospital devices provided and/or limit the use of personal devices for work.
- Use multi-factor authentication for any personal and business logins.
- Use apps and software recommended by the in-house or recognized IT team.
- Request voice authentication for financial transactions and information requests.
- Verify all email addresses and webpages before responding to emails and clicking email links.
Plans for Re-Opening Administrative Offices
Health experts are easing the restrictions on provider-patient contact, especially for non-COVID related treatments and procedures. It is therefore essential for health organizations to devise strategic ways to reopen without the risk of infection. Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a guide in April to help facilities plan their reopening.
First, facilities should seek compliance with relevant regulations provided both at the national and state government levels. The guides provide adequate advice on stocking up on personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing, cleaning, testing, and quarantine for exposed staff and patients.
It is likely that over the next few months facilities and services will open incrementally to prevent crowding, and also to identify problems early and quickly implement solutions. Administrative staff may continue to work remotely, while physicians may trade some online consultations for physical examinations and schedule elective procedures.
However, while facilities can reopen, administrators need to consider the legal risks and exposure to litigation. It's essential to contact malpractice insurers to ensure that you and your physicians are shielded from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Changes Needed To Employee Handbooks
Employers and managers will need to update employee handbooks to tackle any possible exposures to COVID-19 and control measures to prevent spread if positive for infection. The handbooks should include new policies such as:
- Encouraging employees who are sick to stay at home and communicate immediately. Besides remaining in quarantine, employees also have a responsibility to stay home until a qualified physician certifies their health. It's essential for staff with friends and family at home that have coronavirus to communicate with their supervisors.
- Performing daily temperature checks at work, wearing masks, and keeping distance in the workplace. Employers should also encourage staff to sanitize regularly.
- Policies that eliminate hazards for example, sharing equipment and utensils are potential hazards.
- Policies that encourage cybersecurity through the use of approved devices, secure internet connections, software, and security procedures.
Staying Prepared For The Next Wave
While the natural desire is to return to the pre-coronavirus lifestyle, it's essential to acknowledge the new normal and prepare for the next wave. The remote workforce will remain relevant post-crisis because it could safely protect them from highly contaminated populations and enable continued productive work, particularly during a surge. There are also potential cost savings due to smaller office spaces and supply requirements. Clearly, not all employees can work remotely, however consider the possibility of creating a hybrid system that encourages flexibility.
Robust surveillance systems are also essential to prepare for the next wave of infections. As work and transport reopen, more people are bound to interact with coronavirus. Can your current systems contact trace quickly?
Technology has proven to be an essential part of combating the coronavirus pandemic. Facilities need reliable systems to address issues such as contact tracing, telehealth, and contracting. Contact us today to find out how Artificial Intelligence can assist and streamline your organization’s transition to a remote workforce.