Healthcare providers everywhere were gut-punched by the soaring death toll of COVID-19, as it pummeled hospitals and nursing homes under-resourced for decades by officials worried about the cost of system upgrades and organizational reform.
But in the battle against coronavirus, primary care facilities need a reboot more than ever. Things are bleak now, but the situation could become even more dire if care providers don't adapt to the outbreak as it sweeps through vulnerable populations in the U.S. and abroad.
Which brings us to Darren Blake, the Chief Operating Officer at Bexley Health Neighborhood Care (BHNC), part of the SE London Clinical Commissioning Group within the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K . Blake is optimistic about flattening the COVID curve at BHNC with the help of low-code automation.
Like all healthcare providers, BHNC is in uncharted waters with the pandemic. Suddenly, the organization had to implement new national guidance and procedures to ensure compliance within the NHS across Primary Care and the local health & social care system. On top of that, they also had to quickly overcome disconnected legacy systems and manual paper-based processes.
Blake says that he used a low-code automation platform to streamline compliance with the NHS's COVID-19 Hospital Discharge Service Requirements. He also lauded the capabilities of his new platform to safeguard frontline healthcare staff and support peer-to-peer assistance to help save Bexley from the mayhem of a full-blown COVID crisis.
In this Digital Masters interview, Blake breaks down how his organization rebooted with low-code to reduce COVID-related stress on BHNC staffers, and bring together digital and human labor on a single platform. By the way, BHNC deployed their COVID application in less than a week.
Enjoy the conversation:
Appian:Before we dive into your response to COVID, let's talk about Bexley, the BHNC and what you do there.
Blake:Bexley's a London borough. And BHNC is a primary care provider that covers 245,000 people. We have 22 general practices which offer primary care. So, for example if you're ill, your first port of call, normally, would be to go to a medical practitioner and that's what we call primary care. It's where you go before getting referred to a hospital, for example.
So, our role at BHNC is in primary care essentially and community care for people registered against our general practices. All of these patients are registered within those practices and all of the practices are members of our GP Federation.
We (BHNC) wrap around all of the practices within our borough, and essentially we collect them together, work with them and create at-scale services that residents in our borough can access.
Appian: That's good background on BHNC. So, let's switch gears and talk the coronavirus pandemic and you're responding to it.
Blake: So, we provide hubs which are the at-scale services we offer. We've got a GP hub (Primary care), we've got a nursing hub, and now we've got a COVID-19 hub which we launched with a low-code automation platform.
Appian: I know from your website that one of your priorities at BHNC is getting the highest possible standard of care to the people you're serving. How has COVID impacted your ability to do that. And how has automation helped you to adapt?
Blake: We had to take stock of the support we provided all 22 practices in the whole population of BHNC, and we had to change the way it works. And that was a digital revolution that happened in a matter of weeks. So, we quickly moved to total triage through digital means.
Appian: Can you give me a specific example of what you mean by digital triage?
Blake: So, we have something called eConsult, which is where patients complete an online form to explain why they need to come in and see a doctor. Because of COVID, a patient can't just come in for an appointment without being triaged to determine if it's safe to see them.
For patients with COVID symptoms or diagnosed with coronavirus, we're need to put on full protective equipment. So, we've become a highly triaged process whereas before it was much more open than that.
For walk-in services, for example, you used to be able to physically come and sit and wait for assistance. So, we went from being that kind of a physical one-to-one type service to remote (virtual) triage, first to assess the service you need, how best to access it, and whether a digital solution as in a video or a telephone consultation can be used instead of a physical appointment.
Appian:That's a major change in the patient experience.
Blake: Yes, general practice has changed massively in terms of the way we provide services. And much of this is now done through video and telephone. Physical visits have been kept to a minimum because of COVID.
Appian:Okay, so one of the ways you've adapted to COVID is by expanding digital access for patients.
Blake:Yes, the way we look at it, there are two sides to patient access. When you come into the general practice, you're triaged through the door by people wearing masks and protective equipment, et cetera. But we've also zoned the hot areas of our sites for treating COVID patients. Non-symptomatic or non-COVID patients are treated in what we call cold zones.
Appian:Many of the thought leaders we've talked to argue that changing human behavior is essential to driving digital transformation. What do you make of that argument in the context of what you've accomplished at BHNC with your COVID response?
Blake:Yes. It's a perfect storm. We've been able to change the behaviors of patients. We've been able to change the behaviors of staff and the culture of the entire organization, all within a matter of weeks. It's like having a revolution and an evolution going on at the same time.
Appian: That's a good segue to automation. Forrester recently said that the massive disruption caused by COVID makes it urgent for organizations to get more aggressive about automating their processes. What do you make of that argument?
Blake: I think that's absolutely true. So, before COVID, a lot of our general practices had legacy patient systems. But they were heavily dependent on manual processes, paper spreadsheets, whatever. They weren't systemized or automated. All of our 22 practices, for example, would do the same task differently.
But we've been able to leverage automation to standardize operations and align our processes across all of our practices. And that means we can operate a lot more efficiently. Automating our processes helped us with the crisis management piece, in terms of gaining more visibility into patients and staff availability. This helped us to make sure staff are safe and patients get the treatment they need.
Appian: When you talk about keeping staff and patients safe, I think of the emotional side of that? How has automation helped you minimize the emotional impact of the COVID crisis?
Blake:Because of COVID, some staff have taken ill. And, sadly, some of our GP colleagues have actually died. And, so, yeah, there's a big emotional component to the impact of that. And I'm sure you can see this in the U.S. in places like New York, with the enormous amount of stress being experienced by the individuals on the front line of the pandemic. It's unprecedented.
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