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Connecting Patients With Loved Ones During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nurses, students, and physicians keep families informed using Epic

To reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, hospitals have largely restricted hospital visitors. To keep family members informed, UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital and NYU Langone Health have created communication programs where clinicians provide regular updates to patients’ families.

Nurses at UCHealth’s Poudre Valley Hospital serve as nurse communication liaisons between bedside nurses and a patient’s loved ones with help from Epic’s Secure Chat. Each day, a nurse communication liaison checks for new notes in Epic about patients being treated for COVID-19 in the hospital. Then, the nurse calls families with updates. If the families have questions, the nurse liaison uses Secure Chat to send a HIPAA-compliant secure message to the bedside nurse. The bedside nurse can answer the message quickly when a free moment arises.

“I love Secure Chat because it means the bedside nurse—who is gowned and gloved—doesn’t have to scrub out to answer a phone call,” said Molly, an ICU nurse at UCHealth.

At NYU Langone Health, more than 250 attending physicians, nurses, and medical students across several departments keep each patient’s family up to date up to date with proactive daily calls in the NYU Family Connect program. The program was created by Dr. Katherine Hochman, associate chair for quality for the Department of Medicine, who was inspired by her own experience in caring for COVID-19 patients on the front line and who wanted to make a difference while she was recovering from COVID-19 in quarantine.

The Family Connect attending and student team use WebEx to participate remotely as front-line attending physicians conduct interdisciplinary rounds, and then they call families with updates on the patient. Families can also contact a call center, which routes questions to attending physicians and nurses in Secure Chat. The calls become part of the patient’s care coordination notes, so family caregivers and the care team stay on the same page. These calls also allow the front-line team to focus on direct patient care.

“Both the families and the patients are so appreciative of the extra communication. We conducted more than 14,000 calls with the families of 1,869 patients,” said Dr. Hochman. “Being separated from a loved one in this situation is heartbreaking. Our Family Connect team feels really good about helping patients and families stay connected, and we’ve received great feedback from families.”

Epic is offering Secure Chat at no cost during the pandemic for organizations that weren’t using it before. Epic community members can learn how to quickly implement Secure Chat and connect members of a patient’s care team in the Managing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) With Epic white paper, which is updated regularly with recommended build and workflows.