Applying pandemic-born processes to a long-term population health strategy
The pandemic forced public health agencies to modernize, automate, and scale faster than anyone could have imagined. The lessons learned during these challenging times have led to permanent improvements in many operations, making public health more accessible and equitable.
In a recent panel discussion, we spoke to several agency leaders about how they modified their processes to handle COVID-19, how Qualtrics helped them do so effectively, and how they plan to replicate and scale these changes to impact service delivery beyond pandemic-related needs. Here are a few highlights from that session.
Disease tracking and management
The pandemic highlighted the importance of disease tracking in understanding, predicting, and better controlling outbreaks. Public health officials in many communities, including Ventura County, California, quickly found their existing resources ill-equipped to handle the volume and urgency of COVID-19 cases among their residents.
“We were woefully unprepared from both a technology and a people standpoint to respond to the pandemic,” said Ventura County Epidemiologist Erin Slack. When her staff of five in the communicable diseases department ballooned to an all-time high of 200 as county employees – many from outside public health – were reassigned to help, manual processes were no longer an option. Ventura County chose Qualtrics to replace their outdated surveillance system.
Qualtrics really helped us automate our processes to address the surge, and we were able to easily adapt the platform to meet our needs.
Her team used the platform not only for contract tracing and case investigation, but also for compliance reporting and school self-reporting. “We were forced to rapidly adopt new technology, but now it’s become such a key part of our process that we’re expanding it to other areas and programs within public health.”
One example is Ventura’s community health program, where Qualtrics workflows and dashboards are changing the way they do referrals. “Prior to using Qualtrics we used to get referrals over the phone or via fax. Now our referral form is a survey in Qualtrics,” said Erin.
Once a survey response comes in, they use workflows within the system to route it to support staff for processing. If more information is needed, the referral nurse is prompted to reach out to the patient or the referring agency to get more information. Qualtrics dashboards, meanwhile, provide the county with robust data on emerging trends in conditions and treatments. Erin plans to roll this process out to other department programs in the near future.
A lot of our data used to be in disparate systems. Qualtrics has given us one access point to provide data and analytics in real time so that managers and decision makers can re-adjust their processes faster and more effectively.
Scheduling, testing, and clinical integrations
Another impact of the pandemic was the immediate need for better technology to help with scheduling vaccines and treatment, testing for the virus, and integrating data among clinical systems. With scheduling in particular, many legacy tools lacked the agility to adapt to changes in screening questions and eligibility criteria as understanding of COVID evolved. Agencies needed systems that were more flexible and easier to use – for both employees and residents.
Qualtrics’ intuitive and nimble interface allowed employees to adjust scheduling and screening processes without involving IT, so they could easily keep up with the ever-changing guidelines around COVID. Plus, it helped public health agencies scale the process by easily training anyone to use the system, such as the National Guard troops who were deployed to help manage operations in Winnebago County, Illinois.
Winnebago County also credits Qualtrics in helping build trust and credibility among residents. Patients received a digital survey about their experience within 72 hours after vaccination, and those responses were communicated back to the public.
There was a lot of mistrust in the beginning. These responses became a validation of the lived experience of the community, which was a really powerful transparency tool we hope to leverage more going forward.
Equitable access and improved decision-making
The pandemic shone a light on the disparities that continue to exist in certain communities. In some counties, agencies discovered that there were residents who didn’t have email addresses or telephone numbers. By providing efficient self-service functionality for patients to screen themselves and schedule appointments, Qualtrics helped free up bandwidth for agents to help those who lacked digital access.
Gerard Castaneda, Registered Nurse in Macomb County, spoke to how their public health department developed an inclusive appointment scheduling process using Qualtrics workflows.
During the pandemic, it was very apparent that some individuals didn’t have any access to email or a phone, so we programmed pop-ups to appear that included a phone number to call the clinic and schedule follow up appointments. We transitioned that COVID-related process to our flu clinic this year.
Everyday public health operations
Many agencies are applying this approach to address public health gaps in other ways. By consolidating data and workflows in one system, Qualtrics has enabled Ventura County to align with nonprofit hospitals and federally qualified healthcare centers to collaborate on comprehensive community health assessments.
We can look at the data much earlier in the process to be more responsive and make better decisions to reach those vulnerable populations.
In another example, after a large chemical plant fire, Winnebago County partnered with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to develop a health impact survey that was deployed through Qualtrics. This allowed the public health department to quickly gather data on community exposure and potential health impacts to humans and animals in the affected region, as well as facilitate reporting on the incident to the public.
Applying pandemic-born processes in your organization
These examples demonstrate how Qualtrics helped public health agencies automate manual processes, unify disparate systems, gain efficiencies, and improve access to health services for underserved and vulnerable communities during the pandemic – as well as how agencies used these experiences to build a foundation for continuous improvement.
Think about the transformative processes your agency implemented because of COVID, and how you might replicate and scale them to improve trust, transparency, and efficiency on multiple levels. This will allow your employees as well as your community’s healthcare providers to get back to the work they are trained to do and operate at their highest capacity.
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