The Project Must Go On…

The quick onset of the COVID-19 crisis didn’t interrupt a major communications initiative at a Midwest academic medical system. However, it did require some quick adaptation by the system and the consulting assignment being managed by The Huntzinger Management Group and the client.

A quick pivot enabled research to continue on the most effective way to deploy a unified clinical communications project at the system. The charge for the project was to improve the communication tools available to clinicians and supporting departments involved in all emergency and inpatient care. Specifically, the organization was studying the use of iPhones using Epic Secure Chat and Rover functionality to support clinical communications.

Huntzinger was in the early discovery phase of the initiative, conducting onsite interviews, generally lasting two hours or more, with plans to talk to clinicians from more than 80 nursing units and other in-scope departments. However, COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans. But a complete stop in the work wasn’t an option, because the academic system had designated it to be an institutional driver for this year.

Instead, Huntzinger and the academic system were able to change the investigational approach on the fly. In a collaborative decision, research was shifted to remote interviews, thus supporting the organization’s mission to protect its patients and staff, as well as Huntzinger associates. Huntzinger worked with the organization’s nursing informatics leadership to craft the alternative approach. An email was sent to clinical leaders with whom face-to-face meetings had been scheduled. Meetings were rescheduled and shortened to one hour from two hours and shifted to a teleconference format to accommodate the staff’s busier schedule due to COVID caseloads.

During gaps in the schedule or COVID upticks, Huntzinger staff worked on report deliverables, such as creating individual summaries for all areas assessed, documenting “swim lanes” and flow diagrams of the various workflows, creating a communications grid that applied to all in-scope clinical disciplines, and developing a clinical assessment database. Several other adjustments were made to the project because of the COVID-19 crisis.

These included:
• Using a remote/tele-work model.
• Converting face-to-face meetings to virtual calls, being mindful of the dynamic clinical and IT priorities.
• Capitalizing on increased productivity resulting from reductions in travel.
• Becoming more creative with the sequencing of many of the project tasks that could be accomplished remotely to maintain momentum on the project.
• Employing virtual meeting technology to enhance communication among members of the Huntzinger team.

Achieving success with the change in methodology revealed several lessons that will prove valuable in future engagements – for one, video conferencing. Not only was video conferencing effective, it was preferred by many. The audio and video enhanced engagement with participants and enabled everyone to feel more connected.

Huntzinger staff also gained greater appreciation of the need to handle scheduling of assessment meetings in future projects. This experience showed the importance of having a master list of clinical leaders, their areas of responsibility and contact information, both email and phone numbers.