Establishing calm in the face of chaos

APRIL 14, 2020 • BLOG POST • ERIC DAVIS, IT INFRASTRUCTURE ARCHITECT, VANCOUVER CLINIC

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IN THIS ARTICLE

  • In the face of COVID-19, The Vancouver Clinic established a telemedicine program, from scratch, in less than a week
  • Turn-key off-site Wi-Fi “kits” were assembled that allowed staff to quickly establish an off-site location as needed, wherever
  • Expansion of a virtual call center for our critical frontline employees enabling most of them to work from home during the outbreak

The Vancouver Clinic fast tracks to telemedicine and remote work for delivering patient care

Planning for the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Southwestern Washington included fast-tracking two networking-centric initiatives here at the Vancouver Clinic.

One was establishing a telemedicine program, from scratch, in less than a week. It would support moving 40 percent of appointments to becoming video visits for meeting our patients’ regular healthcare needs as well as pandemic-related concerns.

The project other was expanding a virtual call center for our critical frontline employees, called patient service representatives (PSRs), enabling most of them to work from home during the outbreak.

During our normal course of affairs, our clinic could expect 50,000 to 100,000 face-to-face patient encounters in a month. Like everyone in healthcare, we had little insight into precisely how the coronavirus would impact our area. However, based on our previous emergency preparedness efforts for other types of crises, we knew we had to be ready.

Continuing our tradition of patient care excellence while keeping staff safe

When our management approached IT they asked us whether our new Aruba network infrastructure could support the envisioned models and if so, how. With our network already supplying the high-performance connectivity necessary for web conferencing, the primary telemedicine effort was integrating out our Epic electronic health records (EHR) system to integrate the vendor’s video visit module. We completed this project in record time.

As we’d previously started piloting a virtual call center for our PSRs, the pandemic-related effort involved expanding the deployment to move 80% of those individuals to home offices. Due to the well-known HIPAA patient privacy regulations, secure connectivity back to our data center was essential.

For the pilot, we’d purchased several Remote Access Points (RAPs), as they supply the secure, compliant connectivity we require. Unsurprisingly, a rapid expansion to cover most of our PSRs sent our ultra-lean IT staff scrambling to locate units in the channel, where we discovered supplies were already tight. We needed to figure out which additional RAP models were capable of supporting our standard thin client desktops and a physical VoIP telephone.

Fortunately, at about the same time our Aruba reps reached out to us, asking if there was anything they could do to help us navigate the pandemic. When we explained the situation, they immediately began helping us identify alternate RAP models with the appropriate characteristics that also maximized our long-term ROI.

Upon distributing the RAPs, our PSRs simply picked up their company-issued equipment and headed home. They reported plugging in the RAP, along with their computer and phone, was completely seamless, enabling them to start taking patient calls in minutes. It was a big win for our lean IT staff and our entire organization.

Extending our Wi-Fi for instant pop-up medical facilities

As part of our preparedness efforts, we also mapped out a plan for extending Wi-Fi access outdoors, such as along the exterior of our buildings for conducting drive-up virus testing or other curb-side services as needs arise.

Additionally, we’ve assembled some turn-key off-site Wi-Fi “kits” that permit us to quickly establish an off-site location, such as creating a pop-up facility in the local high school parking lot, at a senior care center, or wherever else our staff may be called to serve. These kits leverage a RAP for connectivity to our internal systems, along with additional APs to increase the Wi-Fi coverage area.

In either case, we’ve been modeling What-If scenarios within AirWave to ensure we’re ready with the proper configurations at a moment’s notice. We’ll also use our network access and policy management security software to reserve Wi-Fi access for our internal clinical communications.

Preparing for whatever comes next

Regardless what comes next, we’ve now moved a significant portion of our non-clinical staff offsite to help them stay healthy.

At a time when anxieties are running high, our PSRs are even more important than ever. They’re fielding a significantly increased volume of patient calls, answering questions as appropriate, rescheduling appointments as either video or physical visits, triaging patients with pandemic-related symptoms and, as required, seamlessly transferring individuals to our Nurse Advice help line.

For all of our patients, the fact that we’re able to continue to deliver a high level of care – despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19 – is calming and comforting, which is so important in these uncertain times.

For us in IT, current events have not only proven our network infrastructure to be as resilient, flexible and scalable as we’d hoped, but also demonstrated the importance of working with a networking company that puts its customers’ needs first.

Eric Davis has served as the IT Infrastructure Architect for the Vancouver Clinic since early 2017. As the technical lead for the infrastructure engineering team, he has spearheaded numerous network modernization initiatives at the 80-year-old Vancouver, Washington, medical practice. The largest private, multispecialty clinic in the greater Portland, Oregon, area, the 2,000-employee Vancouver Clinic operates seven locations spread across the region and 40-plus medical specialties. Davis has over three decades of IT experience covering every aspect of networking, compute, storage and security.

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