One of the most pressing concerns throughout the pandemic has been the strain on medical systems caused by vast quantities and various strains of COVID-19 cases. As the largest health care provider in the nation, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has tackled this concern head-on with the deployment of a new SMART-on-FHIR application developed by the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) in partnership with frontline Emergency Medicine Physicians.
Out with the old, in with the new
The COVID-19 Patient Manager is a clinical decision support web application to help emergency physicians and clinicians triage patients to recommend the appropriate medical disposition and treatment. Gone are the days when physicians manually generate, record, and share reports with patients and fellow medical personnel. The COVID-19 Patient Manager application does all of that for medical staff, saving frontline workers precious time and energy that are needed to support more critical patients.
Spending hours in a waiting room or anxiously waiting for an update on your or a loved one’s health can take its toll, especially during a pandemic. The new COVID-19 Patient Manager helps alleviate that burden by eliminating a few stress points along the way. Because the application automates data processing, patients experiencing milder symptoms are quickly prescribed and discharged while those with more severe cases are promptly identified and treated. The expedited process offers some relief to patients and their families in a difficult time.
The Patient Manager in action
The COVID-19 Patient Manager application does not replace clinical judgment, but rather it gives clinicians guidance along the way. Based on the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) COVID-19 management guidelines, the COVID-19 Patient Manager application gathers patient data and integrates it with VA’s Electronic Health Record (EHR). It then outputs treatment recommendations, including medications and whether a patient should be discharged, monitored, or escalated to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
There are currently 20 VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) with 490 medical staff using the application, and 4 more VAMCs are in discussions with developers to add it to their toolkit. In the few months since the initial launch, physicians are excited about the application’s performance. Their feedback shows that the application collects patient demographic, vital signs, and laboratory results much more efficiently and with less error than when medical personnel did it manually.
More than meets the eye
As the pandemic continues to develop in unpredictable ways, the COVID-19 Patient Manager framework will evolve to meet rapidly changing patient and caregiver needs. As new variants arise and present unique problems, the system will help physicians triage large caseloads and track new medications and best practices. COVID-19 Patient Manager developers are working closely with frontline physicians to monitor any updates in national and local guidelines to update the treatment recommendations.
Several VA physicians are also actively involved in providing feedback to a guideline content workgroup, which includes subject matter experts from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and leading medical centers. In this way, the COVID-19 Patient Manager not only benefits VA’s medical facilities but also the national pandemic response.
More to come
The implications of the COVID-19 Patient Manager go beyond just its use in managing COVID-19 cases at VA. In addition to its groundbreaking pandemic support in VAMCs nationwide, the application has the potential to extend beyond pandemic-related treatments and into other medical practices. The Patient Manager’s framework may be able to help doctors and clinicians prescribe pain medication and even contribute to the fight against cancer. Developers hope that the application’s framework will soon be available for a wide range of medical services on which Veterans rely.
Even more exciting is that the application’s framework meets industry standards. Developed in compliance with SMART-on-FHIR, the standard electronic health record framework, COVID-19 Patient Manager meets regulatory requirements and can be integrated with VA and VA Medical Center servers and certified EHR systems. The application is also 508-compliant, making it more equitably accessible for users nationwide. As a result, VA has the flexibility to both purchase similar platforms from the market and develop its own tools to meet patient and caregiver needs.
The COVID-19 Patient Manager is just another example of how VA delivers innovative solutions that Veterans and caregivers need. Opportunities to learn more are just around the corner. OIT will be hosting several kiosks to display this and several other innovative solutions at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Orlando, Florida, on March 14-18, 2022. Check out the HIMSS website for more information about how to attend.
Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.