Program Profile

Implementation of a Virtual Huddle to Support Patient Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Background: During a surge of COVID-19 cases, the volume of acute care patients with hypoxemic respiratory failure placed a high burden of responsibility on internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine, and clinical pharmacy services.

Observations: We describe the COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program, a novel approach to communication between key stakeholders in COVID-19 patient care through a daily video conferencing huddle. The program was implemented during a 4-week surge in COVID-19 cases at a large, academic medical center in Houston, Texas. Data collected during the COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program included the type and number of interventions implemented, number of patients discussed, and COVID-19 therapies provided. In addition, hospital medicine team members completed a user-experience survey.

Conclusions: A multidisciplinary consultation service using video conferencing can support the care of patients with high disease severity without overwhelming existing inpatient medical, intensive care, and pharmacy services.


 

References

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged hospital medicine teams to care for patients with complex respiratory needs, comply with evolving protocols, and remain abreast of new therapies. 1,2 Pulmonary and critical care medicine (PCCM) faculty grappled with similar issues, acknowledging that their critical care expertise could be beneficial outside of the intensive care unit (ICU). Clinical pharmacists managed the procurement, allocation, and monitoring of complex (and sometimes limited) pharmacologic therapies. Although strategies used by health care systems to prepare and restructure for COVID-19 are reported, processes to enhance multidisciplinary care are limited. 3,4 Therefore, we developed the COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program using video conference to support hospital medicine teams caring for patients with COVID-19 and high disease severity.

Program Description

The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MEDVAMC) in Houston, Texas, is a 349-bed, level 1A federal health care facility serving more than 113,000 veterans in southeast Texas. 5 The COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program took place over a 4-week period from July 6 to August 2, 2020. By the end of the 4-week period, there was a decline in the number of COVID patient admissions and thus the need for the huddle. Participation in the huddle also declined, likely reflecting the end of the surge and an increase in knowledge about COVID management acquired by the teams. Each COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program consultation session consisted of at least 1 member from each hospital medicine team, 1 to 2 PCCM faculty members, and 1 to 2 clinical pharmacy specialists (Figure). The consultation team members included 4 PCCM faculty members and 2 clinical pharmacy specialists. The internal medicine (IM) participants included 10 ward teams with a total of 20 interns (PGY1), 12 upper-level residents (PGY2 and PGY 3), and 10 attending physicians.

COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program Participants and Roles

The COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program was a daily (including weekends) video conference. The hospital medicine team members joined the huddle from team workrooms, using webcams supplied by the MEDVAMC information technology department. The COVID-19 Tele-Huddle Program consultation team members joined remotely. Each hospital medicine team joined the huddle at a pre-assigned 15- to 30-minute time allotment, which varied based on patient volume. Participation in the huddle was mandatory for the first week and became optional thereafter. This was in recognition of the steep learning curve and provided the teams both basic knowledge of COVID management and a shared understanding of when a multidisciplinary consultation would be critical. Mandatory daily participation was challenging due to the pressures of patient volume during the surge.

COVID-19 patients with high disease severity were discussed during huddles based on specific criteria: all newly admitted COVID-19 patients, patients requiring step-down level of care, those with increasing oxygen requirements, and/or patients requiring authorization of remdesivir therapy, which required clinical pharmacy authorization at MEDVAMC. The hospital medicine teams reported the patients’ oxygen requirements, comorbid medical conditions, current and prior therapies, fluid status, and relevant laboratory values. A dashboard using the Premier Inc. TheraDoc clinical decision support system was developed to display patient vital signs, laboratory values, and medications. The PCCM faculty and clinical pharmacists listened to inpatient medicine teams presentations and used the dashboard and radiographic images to formulate clinical decisions. Discussion of a patient at the huddle did not preclude in-person consultation at any time.

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