When the first Ebola case was diagnosed in Dallas, it marked the beginning of a new era in U.S. healthcare.
No longer can we say that diseases like Ebola are a Third World plague. In today’s world, where people can travel to the other side of the world in a matter of hours, diseases like SARS, Ebola and avian flu present a real challenge for U.S. hospitals. The incident in Dallas has helped bring to light the steps hospitals need to take in order to protect the communities they serve.
These include:

Being prepared:  The hospital that sent home a Liberian national infected with Ebola thought they were well prepared to handle a potential Ebola case. In fact, they had recently held a meeting to review the checklist sent out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, when they were face-to-face with someone with the disease, clinicians missed it because the initial symptoms of fever and headache are so similar to other illnesses.

Asking the right questions:  To help hospitals identify whether a patient has Ebola or not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all patients who have recently been in West Africa be considered potential Ebola patients. As a result, it’s important to ask anyone who presents Ebola-like symptoms, whether they have had any recent foreign travel. To be safe, some hospitals are asking every patient this question, regardless of the symptoms.

Sharing information with the right people:  It’s not enough to ask the right questions – this information needs to be shared with the right people. For instance, while the Dallas hospital learned that the patient had recently traveled from West Africa, the information wasn’t communicated to clinicians. Initially, they said this was the result of a flaw in the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. However, hospital administrators later said there was no flaw in the EHR, and the travel history was documented in the electronic health record and within physician’s workflow. However, for whatever reason, the patient was not hospitalized, but instead was sent home with antibiotics.

Making decisions on the front lines:  This incident might have been prevented if the hospital had embraced something called Adaptive Design that empowers front-line employees to make decisions. The belief is that there is too much data in today’s work environment and that having managers make every decision can create bottlenecks that impede care. Adaptive Design is gaining popularity in the healthcare community, and the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation and Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health in San Diego, have published books that talk about how front-line decision making will help hospitals improve care.

Knowing who is in your hospital: A hospital needs to be able to engage with every single person entering their facility, so the organization’s policies and practices can be applied consistently and universally. With IntelliCentrics SEC3URETM, facilities can ensure that each person in the hospital has been properly credentialed and vetted. For instance, hospitals can require each person to be trained in the aseptic and infection control techniques appropriate for their role.

Monitoring people who may be exposed:  When a patient has been identified as having a highly infectious and potentially lethal disease, it is imperative to identify all of the people who may have had contact with the person to limit the spread of the disease. With IntelliCentrics SEC³URE, healthcare organizations can monitor every individual who enters the healthcare facility. This will help them determine who was in the facility, who they were visiting and when they were there – information that will then determine who might have had contact with the infected person

Streamlining the process to eliminate medical waste:  Four people were quarantined for days in a Dallas apartment with soiled towels and sweat-stained sheets from the Ebola patient. Why? Because it was difficult to find a contractor willing to enter and clean the apartment and remove the bedding and clothes. By the same token, federal transportation and disease-control officials had to issue an emergency permit to allow a company to haul away and dispose of the materials — not only from the apartment but also any from the hospital. Since Ebola germs can live in the environment from hours to days, it is imperative to remove soiled materials in a timely fashion. Not doing so may expose people to needless harm.

While the Ebola outbreak in Dallas is not over, it has brought to light weaknesses in our nation’s healthcare system. Rather than pointing fingers and saying who dropped the ball, it’s important to learn from this incident and takes steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

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