Newswise — Baltimore, MD – With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), LifeBridge Health, one of the largest healthcare systems in Maryland, ramped up its tele-triage program to help reduce an overflow of concerned patients in the system’s emergency departments and provider offices in the community.
Since opening on March 11, the number of people screened by the tele-triage team has increased from 33 patients on the first day to more than 100 just two days later. Now, after three full weeks of operation, the average weekday call volume ranges between 500 and 600, with about a third of those individuals referred to drive-thru COVID-19 testing.
“The tele-triage program allows us to screen individuals quickly and limit possible exposure to healthcare workers because the patients are on the phone or video. In just a short time, we have seen exponential growth with over 5,000 people being screened, with dozens being diagnosed through the telemedicine screening and drive-thru process with many tests still pending,” said Jonathan Thierman, M.D., chief medical information officer for LifeBridge Health and medical director of the system’s Virtual Hospital.
The tele-triage program is part of LifeBridge Health’s Virtual Hospital and the system’s ongoing, rapid response to the Coronavirus. When a patient contacts their LifeBridge Health provider with concerns that they may have symptoms of the virus, they are connected to a hotline that sends them to LifeBridge Health’s COVID-19 telemedicine team.
After an initial telephone screening by a registered nurse, patients who meet certain criteria may then have a telephonic or video screening by a physicians assistant, conducted in a private room for patient privacy concerns.
The tele-triage team uses continually updated clinical algorithms, put together by the LifeBridge Health medical teams in coordination with the latest federal and state guidelines for COVID-19, to decide which patients should be tested
All testing patients must have a referral coordinated through the COVID tele-triage program, as there are strict procedures that must be followed to protect the healthcare workers who are doing the drive-thru testing.
As word of the tele-triage system spread, LifeBridge Health added other physician practices and referrals from community organizations. The tele-triage team also took on screening for LifeBridge Health employees who may have had COVID-19 exposure, either from travel, community exposure or potential exposure at work. Also, because of increased demand, the team added weekend hours after just a week-and-a-half of operation.
Thierman said the system’s tele-triage team, now consisting of more than 50 health care professionals, including nurses and physician assistants, quickly assembled the telemedicine program hotline and video visits in anticipation of the surge of COVID-19 patients. He credits them along with the many medical professionals and LifeBridge Health support teams who volunteered their services to get the program up and running.
“Everyone is extremely busy but energized by the fact that the majority of positive COVID tests in our health system are being identified through this telemedicine and drive-thru testing process,” said Thierman. “We feel like we’re making a real difference in protecting our patients and staff on the front lines from exposure to this virus.”
Along with the tele-triage program, in response to the potential surge in patients needing care due to the Coronavirus, LifeBridge Health, is also adding more than 500 additional beds among its five hospitals.
The first increase in capacity came the week of March 23 when Northwest Hospital added 20 medical/surgical beds on a unit that was already undergoing renovations.
More than 70 beds could also be added at Grace Medical Center (the former Bon Secours Hospital) to care for non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up capacity at LifeBridge Health’s other hospitals.
For more about LifeBridge Health’s COVID-19 response, go to www.lifebridgehealth.org/COVID19
About LifeBridge HealthLifeBridge Health is one of the largest, most comprehensive providers of health services in Maryland. LifeBridge Health includes Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Grace Medical Center and related subsidiaries and affiliates. For more information, visit www.lifebridgehealth.org
About LifeBridge Health’s Virtual Hospital
Established in early 2019 and located at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, LifeBridge Health’s Virtual Hospital combines the use of a clinical command center, telemedicine services (which includes tele-triaging and tele-hospitalists) and international clinical call centers to provide patients with coordinated care in a timely manner. Each component ensures patients are efficiently monitored, swiftly evaluated and receive effective treatment or are placed in the most appropriate level of care.