Scott Krodel came on board as chief information officer at West Tennessee Healthcare on March 2 this year.
Two weeks later, it became clear that changes needed to be made – quickly.
“We went on a bit of a buying spree,” Krodel told Healthcare IT News. Like other health systems across the country, West Tennessee had to rapidly pivot to telehealth where it could and try to make all its systems interoperable across its seven facilities. And as COVID-19 cases climbed in the region – which skated on the edge of being a coronavirus hotspot – Krodel said, “We were really struggling early on in terms of tracking” patients in the system.
West Tennessee serves nine counties, with about half a million people – many of them in rural areas. And on weekends, Krodel says, that population doubles, with out-of-towners drawn to the restaurant scene in Jackson.
To try and manage patient numbers, West Tennessee’s main facility in Jackson was already using TeleTracking, the Pittsburgh-based data firm that made headlines earlier this year for its involvement in the new COVID-19 patient-tracking system abruptly unveiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We did a quick review with TeleTracking and some competitors to do a fast [evaluation] of what we needed to do around COVID and how the vendors” could help, said Krodel.
After deciding to expand TeleTracking for use in the rest of its facilities, Krodel said, within two weeks the health system had “enterprise-wide COVID tracking.”
TeleTracking president Christopher Johnson told Healthcare IT News that the company, which has been around for three decades, has three major functional areas: capacity management, analytics and solutions access.
“TeleTracking usually takes a few months” to spin up, said Johnson. Generally, he said, “we work shoulder-to-shoulder” with facilities.
As with other implementation processes, he said, “COVID created a restriction on that; entering into hospitals became very difficult.
“We were able to streamline into a rapid-deployment model and deploy tech remotely,” he continued. “West Tennessee was a great partner from that standpoint.”
According to Krodel, the volume in the main facility has been higher than normal due to the coronavirus; TeleTracking is “helping manage trying to get patients out earlier” and to identify critical cases in the auxiliary facilities who might need to be transferred. However, he said, at this moment, “we’re so packed everywhere, I’m not sure it matters.”
Overall, he said, “we could have communicated better” about patient numbers and flow.
By using platforms like TeleTracking, Johnson said, “You can create shared situational awareness amongst all parties. … We remove a tremendous amount of wasted time. In business, time is money. And in healthcare, time is life.”
As far as other tools go, Krodel said that West Tennessee uses extracts from its electronic health record, Cerner, to use in conjunction with TeleTracking – particularly where employee wellness is concerned.
“We definitely need to improve our interoperability,” he said. He noted that the system could benefit from integrating population health software and tools that can extract information from unstructured data.
He also points to systems like Mercy Virtual Care, which center telemedicine as their modality for patient care, as a potential inspiration for future expansion.
“That’s something we want to see where we can go,” said Krodel.
As with other facilities in the country, Krodel said, front-line workers at West Tennessee have been feeling the effects from months of the pandemic.
“I’m just now starting to look at my staffing models. We’ve been scrambling,” he said. “Our nurses are getting burnt out.”