Shepherd Center Wins Statewide Patient Safety and Quality Award for Telehealth
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shepherd Center launched a project that successfully implemented the use of telehealth technology to serve the hospital’s patients via virtual visits. That project has now garnered the prestigious Patient Safety and Quality Award for 2021 from the Georgia Hospital Association Partnership for Health and Accountability (PHA).
The project, titled “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic Through the Use of Telehealth for a High-Risk Population of Patients with Complex Neurological Disorders,” won first place in the Specialty Hospitals category. These annual awards recognize Georgia healthcare organizations for achievement in reducing the risk of medical errors and improving patient safety and medical outcomes.
Because of the increasing impact of COVID-19 on our communities and healthcare systems, like many healthcare organizations, Shepherd Center made the challenging decision to reduce in-person outpatient clinic visits. In addition, Shepherd Center closed several areas of the hospital’s outpatient services, keeping only those services for high-risk and chronic patients who needed ongoing infusion therapy or procedures to treat their conditions.
“There are so many people that were a part of this process, from our front line staff to our executive leadership,” said Marsha Hanson, RN, BSN, CRRN, director of outpatient services. “Because of our special patient population, we couldn’t delay or halt their care. We made it our mission to think outside the box and develop ways to continue to care for our patients outside of our walls and take care into patients’ homes.”
During the pilot and full implementation of the project, Shepherd Center's team took a continuous improvement approach and often refined the scheduling process and communication with patients. The team adjusted workflows in each outpatient area based on the needs of patients and providers. The full implementation showed Shepherd Center was able to successfully meet the needs of patients by offering telehealth while reducing virus exposure risk to patients and staff members.
“We were able to provide telerehabilitation, telepyschology and telemedicine services to ensure patients didn’t lose progress on the function and outcomes they had already gained before COVID,” Hanson said. “We’re grateful to everyone who put a lot of innovative thinking into what we were able to accomplish in a short timeframe and to our executive leadership and board for giving us the support to make it all happen.”
Between March 17 and July 31, 2020, Shepherd Center completed 5,353 telehealth visits and 668 telephone visits across 13 departments with 78 providers and clinicians. Virtual visits have since expanded and will continue in Shepherd Center's outpatient wellness program. Both telehealth and virtual programs will continue. Throughout the pandemic and after, Shepherd Center will continue to modify programs and workflows to meet the needs of patients, payors and regulations, Hanson said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic forced a re-examination of the manner in which hospitals are accustomed to delivering care,” said Georgia Hospital Association President and CEO Earl Rogers. “We applaud Shepherd Center for its innovation in the use of telehealth to ensure no interruptions in the care of its patient population.”
The Partnership for Health and Accountability (PHA), an affiliate of GHA, was established in January 2000 to improve patient care and patient safety in hospitals and other healthcare facilities and create healthy communities.
Founded in 1929, GHA serves more than 170 hospitals in Georgia and promotes the health and welfare of the public through the development of better hospital care for all Georgia’s citizens. The mission of GHA is to advance the health of individuals and communities by serving as the leading advocate for all Georgia hospitals and healthcare systems. GHA represents its members before the General Assembly and Congress, as well as state and federal regulatory agencies, and is an allied member of the American Hospital Association. For more information, call 770-249-4500 or visit gha.org.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.