While frontline staff continue to care for critical COVID-19 patients with innovative treatments inside the hospital, certain staff within the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network aren’t forgetting about those living with COVID-19 outside of the hospital. Leaders from Inception Health, the health network’s innovation arm partially responsible for implementing new technology like virtual care, have implemented two tools to try to make life better for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but don’t require hospitalization: the GetWell Loop 24/7 remote monitoring app and COVID-19 care packages.
“When you get a call with test results and are told you have coronavirus, it can be pretty overwhelming,” said Karen Fickel, MD, medical director of digital health for Inception Health. “You’re already not feeling well and then, on top of that, you are getting inundated by scary stories from the news, social media, family or friends. You’re wondering ‘what’s next?’ We are happy to offer two tools we’ve found to be really helpful to support patients through their coronavirus journey.”
GetWell Loop 24/7 Remote Monitoring
After a person gets tested for COVID-19 at a Froedtert & MCW testing site or Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories location, a Froedtert & MCW nurse or advance practice provider (APP) will call with results. If positive, the nurse or APP will go over at-home care guidelines, such as lying on your stomach to take in more oxygen. The provider will also explain how the patient can access the GetWell Loop app. The app provides specific daily information on what to expect during their COVID-19 journey. The patient will then decide if they want to join the Loop, which is easily initiated through e-mail.
“It has long been known in medicine that you can only absorb so much information at once,” Dr. Fickel said. “The ability to get the right information at relevant times is very important with this particular disease.”
Currently free, the GetWell Loop app allows participants to send messages to a team of virtual care nurses. These nurses, who have years of experience working in intensive care units, are available around-the-clock to address patient concerns. These concerns are noted with yellow or red “flags” and can include being more short of breath than usual, having chest pain or just generally feeling worse than the previous day. The nurse responds to the patient with a phone call.
“It’s invaluable to have a seasoned nurse talk with you and assess through conversation if you are dangerously short of breath or need emergency care,” Dr. Fickel said. “This telephonic clinical assessment has been vital in helping us coach patients on whether or not it is safe to continue to recover at home or if you need to be checked out through urgent care, virtual care or even the emergency room if you’re getting pretty sick.”
Although the hope is that the patient will be able to remain at home, if in-person care is needed, this conversation allows the nurses to alert the location where the incoming COVID-19 patient will present. Staff at the location are better prepared to care for the patient already knowing their symptoms. Beneficial for the patient and provider, the GetWell Loop is a useful tool that can assist in navigating through COVID-19.
“The sooner we identify that you have coronavirus and provide support, the better,” Dr. Fickel said. “You may feel ill with symptoms for several days before you start getting really sick. As we continue to learn about coronavirus, we know that week two is often really difficult, which is different than other viral illnesses where we are used to getting better within a few days. Having access to and knowing that you are being monitored during those tough times is helpful and reassuring for everybody involved.”
COVID-19 Care Packages
As a supplemental tool to go along with the GetWell Loop app, the Froedtert & MCW health network and Inception Health also offer COVID-19 care packages to people who test positive for the virus. Born from compassion, these care packages are the result of clinical staff wanting their patients to know they are being thought of during recovery. The packages contain face coverings, a pulse oximeter, educational information, facial tissues, hand sanitizer and a bottle of water. The coverings are available thanks to generous community donations, with some care packages even containing homemade cloth masks.
Bilingual education information outlines how to self-isolate at home and what to expect when you have COVID-19. It also provides information about the GetWell Loop app and how to use the pulse oximeter, a tool that measures oxygen levels to help providers during the telephonic consultation. Because COVID-19 can cause silent hypoxia, a condition where a person may feel fine but is severely lacking oxygen, the pulse oximeter can indicate that something is wrong and treatment is needed.
“While these aren’t medical-grade pulse oximeters, they do give us an important piece of information,” Dr. Fickel said. “When combined with knowing how people are feeling, the oximeter’s reading can tell us if the body isn’t getting enough required oxygen. Consistently lower-than-baseline readings often require a clinical assessment. Knowing who may need to be hospitalized before they actually come in helps the care team prepare to provide appropriate treatment.”
The care packages, first offered in mid-May, are available to be picked up curbside at the patient’s testing location by the patient or by a family member. To date, more than 100 care packages have been offered. Since Inception Health launched the GetWell Loop app for COVID-19 on March 30, it has been offered to about 500 patients outside of the hospital setting, with more than 210 participating and recovering. Both tools will continue to be offered to people testing positive for COVID-19, not only to support the patient, but also to support their family and surrounding community.
“These tools help us determine who needs a little extra support,” Dr. Fickel said. “The information in the care package isn’t just for you. It’s for your spouse, grandparents or colleagues, too. We all live and work within these isolation bubbles right now and these care packages have the power to impact each and every one throughout the community.”
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My thanks to everyone for putting these options into play. These programs provide a little extra care when it's really needed that for some, might make a world of difference.