At the heart of UF Health’s nimble COVID-19 response is the UF Health Information Technology Services department. Its teams launched unique initiatives that kept virus testing on track, improved the flow of crucial patient information and enabled a surge in telehealth medical appointments. The IT staff also scaled computing resources and front-line support to enable a four-fold increase in the number of employees working remotely.
Gigi Lipori, M.T., M.B.A., senior vice president and the chief information officer for UF Health, credits those successes to a resolute staff.
“There were a lot of long days and late nights for many people,” she said.
For Lipori, one notable accomplishment was the implementation of a complex algorithm to optimize COVID-19 testing resources. In the pandemic’s early days, reagents — the main chemical ingredients for patient testing — were in short supply everywhere. There were other variables: A patient who was relatively healthy and staying at home likely didn’t need as rapid of a COVID-19 test response as one who was acutely ill in the emergency room.
The speed and capacity of testing equipment varies with its design. The algorithm, developed by UF Health clinical leadership to optimize lab routing to account for all those variables, resulted in likely the most complex order ever built into UF Health’s Epic electronic medical record system.
“The algorithm is a solution to make sure we have the right reagent and testing methodologies at the right time in order to maximize our testing capabilities,” Lipori said.
The IT staff also enhanced Bugsy, an infection control module used in Epic, by integrating the lab result and infection workflows. It now issues alerts and automatically sets infection statuses when a test is ordered or a new positive case is discovered. That gives the hospital’s infectious disease and infection control experts valuable and timely information, Lipori said.
The command center is also provided a real-time dashboard that includes data on laboratory testing volumes and results, as well as infection and isolation statuses for patients in the hospital and at external testing locations.
Outside the hospital environment, the IT teams were just as busy. They set up the technology backbone for “virtual clinics” — COVID-19 outpatient testing at sites in Jacksonville, The Villages® and Gainesville. As social distancing took hold, IT staff worked with physicians and administrators to rapidly boost UF Health’s telemedicine capacity. On March 12, UF Health Physicians providers in Gainesville conducted 20 telehealth visits. By April 16, the daily count was 1,497 visits — a 7,385% increase. Today, almost every UF Health outpatient practice has a telehealth component.
As UF Health Web Services devised a new public-facing COVID-19 information and resource site, one of the biggest challenges was obvious: managing the massive flow of information from multiple UF Health departments and colleges as well as other sources. It was decided early on that the site’s primary mission would be addressing immediate questions about COVID-19 and showing how UF Health’s response to the pandemic fit with its patient care and research missions, said Jeffrey Stevens, the assistant manager of UF Health Web Services.
To manage the inflow of material, Web Services quickly expanded its digital communications effort to include content and contributors from UF Health’s communications teams. The site, coronavirus.UFHealth.org, has had more than 174,000 page views since its March 17 launch. It was recognized recently by the well-respected digital agency Modern Tribe as one of the nation’s best crisis-response websites in higher education. The site was commended as a “clean and modern” exemplary resource and for the collaboration among communicators to provide timely updates across the three health campuses.
When COVID-19 precautions emptied some UF Health offices, IT answered the call yet again by boosting the capacity for faculty and staff accessing email and work resources remotely. In Gainesville, IT managed volumes going from about 700 to an unprecedented 2,700 concurrent users; and in Jacksonville, from about 75 to 875 concurrent users.
“We have never had that many people attached to a network at the same time,” Lipori said.