Technology: A Matter of Life and Death

By Bala Hota, MD

In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, an outbreak that has infected hundreds of thousands worldwide, the utilization and innovations of technology in health care are more pertinent than ever. The intersectionality of health care and technology serves as the foundation upon which we, especially at Rush, provide care.

Three years ago, as a rapidly growing health system, we saw the need for a tech revolution within our institution. One that would allow us to provide truly “holistic” care — even in the face of disaster. With the leadership of our chief information officer, Dr. Shafiq Rab, we embarked on a digital transformation journey to become one of the leading health care and teaching institutions in the world.

We wanted to challenge the way that we and our health care colleagues provided care and maintained the excellence we strive for in its delivery. The vision was simple. We wanted to not only eliminate the existing 16-year life expectancy gap in our West Side anchor communities but push the limits of what it means to be excellent. Rush was looking to expand its footprint both nationally and internationally. By bringing together the talent, leadership and partnerships to make it happen, our journey is no longer just a lofty goal to redefine the health care experience but has become the intention behind everything we do here at Rush.

From the way our hospital is physically designed to the breadth of cloud-based solutions, invaluable technology and technological advancements, Rush has invested resources and efforts to being able to serve our communities—patients, staff and students—to the absolute best of our ability.

Creating a digital front door

In 2019, we launched our own integrated mobile health application, My Rush. With direct access to MyChart and additional features including on-demand video visits, My Rush has become one of the primary vehicles in which Rush communicates, not only with patients but also the general public regarding crucial information on coronavirus screening, prevention and education.

Users can log in using their MyChart account information or continue as a guest to access virtual care, including the COVID-19 module developed by Rush infectious disease experts in response to the outbreak. Virtual care is also now a covered benefit through all Illinois insurers, so all My Rush video consultations are offered at no upfront cost.

Through the module, people can use a self-led risk assessment tool to help guide clinical decision making and connect them with a Rush emergency medicine provider if they screen positive for coronavirus on the self-assessment. The My Rush mobile app also provides access to educational videos and national and international COVID-19 updates. My Rush also includes resources to learn about coronavirus infection, prevention, and access to resources.

By leveraging the My Rush app, we were able to quickly mobilize public health education and screening efforts to the general public within a short time. Since the release of the COVID-19 video visit module on March 5, the average number of new app users each day has more than doubled.  Additionally, in an effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure to others, many Rush providers have converted their scheduled non-urgent appointments to phone or video.

Rush has used technology for employee safety as well. Video conferencing is being used to communicate with patients in isolation, giving providers an extra level of safety by not having to enter the patient’s room. Patients can use an iPad provided at the bedside to talk to their care team through video conferencing applications and providers are able to remotely round on patients in isolation due to COVID-19. This intervention has allowed us to greatly reduce exposure of the virus to the hardworking and dedicated employees that take care of our patients. We have also rolled out an extensive work from home program, encouraging those that can work from home to do so to reduce unnecessary traffic in and around campus. 

Leveraging digital tools to save lives

Rush also recently created a predictive modeling tool that will better allow hospitals to better predict resources needed to safely and effectively treat patients infected with the COVID-19 disease.

The Hospital Resource Calculator for COVID-19 uses the public data set of COVID-19 infections from the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for System Science and Engineering and then prompts hospitals to enter data about the suspected COVID-19 cases at their facility, as well as answer questions about supply usage.  Hospitals can then get a prediction of expected staffing needs as well as a forecast of the needed supplies, such as intensive care unit beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE). The open-source tool will be made available to hospitals at no cost.

Had we not, three years ago, had the foresight to embed these resources within our standard of care, we certainly would not have been able to respond and prepare as quickly as we have done with the current COVID-19 outbreak. By using our My Rush communication platform and other innovative technology solutions, we can facilitate the early detection and treatment of the virus in potentially positive individuals on a large scale.

Patients requiring additional medical attention aside from self-quarantine and treatment at home can have their care coordinated from the screening, diagnosis and treatment to the recovery process.  Others have been sent home to recover under self-quarantine precautions and follow-up from the city and state health departments which could not have been possible without the technology and teams we have here at Rush. To date, of the 5,004 patients that have been screened, 1,055 patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and only 164 are currently admitted as inpatients across the system. By utilizing our innovative technology solutions, we are actively limiting the exposure of coronavirus within the community and at Rush to contain the outbreak and mitigate health, societal and economic outcomes due to this outbreak. 

“We are now virtually and in real time connected. All our operations and patient care is being taken care of in real time and everyone is participating. We are one team because of technology. We are all working together with a single focus on how to take care of the people of our community – I have never seen something with such glory and yet so simple” – Dr. Shafiq Rab, Rush System Chief Information Officer

Part of Rush’s vision is to transform health care. Whether it is bringing equitable health care to those we serve or addressing a global pandemic, Rush is at the forefront of excellence. It’s the Rush way.

Bala Hota, MD, an infectious diseases specialist, is chief analytics officer with the Rush University System for Health.

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