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Applying Experience from Past Epidemics to COVID-19

A biocontainment ward and screening workflow in Epic previously used for Ebola and MERS have played key roles in Nebraska Medical Center’s response to COVID-19

In 2014, Nebraska Medical Center created a novel biocontainment unit and a patient screening workflow to prepare for future outbreaks. Those strategies prepared the hospital in advance for the Ebola and MERS outbreaks, and now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nebraska Medical Center is relying on them again.

When a patient arrives at the hospital or clinic, clinicians use a screening questionnaire in Epic to determine whether the patient might have been exposed to COVID-19. If the patient’s symptoms indicate potential infection, clinicians see a warning that the patient needs a mask and might require isolation.

The biocontainment unit at Nebraska Medical Center is designed to prevent the spread of viruses, with doors that act as an airlock, a separate area for doctors and nurses to change and shower, and autoclaves to sterilize materials. The unit also contains a lab for quick testing turnaround.

In the biocontainment unit, clinicians use phones and tablets equipped with Epic’s Haiku and Canto apps to document patient care. The devices are easier to clean than large workstations.Managers and charge nurses use reports in Epic to see how many beds are available in both the biocontainment unit and other isolation COVID-19 units.   Leaders use an Epic dashboard to plan for and respond to changes in key metrics, such as patient volumes, supplies, and testing.

“We overcame the challenges of Ebola and MERS, and used similar screening strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Shelly Schwedhelm, Nebraska Medical Center’s executive director of emergency preparedness and infection prevention at Nebraska Medical Center.

Read more from The New York Times. Epic community members can learn about strategies other health systems use to reduce exposure in hospitals in the Managing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) with Epic white paper, which is updated regularly with new build and workflows.