Providence discusses lessons learned in tackling COVID-19

Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, Executive Vice President & Chief Clinical Officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, shared the health system’s experience handling the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington State during a HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) webinar on Wednesday morning. Compton-Phillips discussed preparation strategies, technological tools, and lessons learned in responding to the epidemic.

Public health officials announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States on January, 21. The patient was originally seen at one of Providence’s urgent care clinics before being admitted to their hospital in Everett, Washington. Compton-Phillips said that experts in the area had warned that it was only a matter of time before coronavirus came to Washington. For that reason, Providence’s preparation for responding to the virus – including data-gathering and preparing alerts for patients’ electronic medical records — began in early January.


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As the number of cases have grown in the state, Providence has focused their efforts into three buckets: triaging, testing, and treatment.  

In terms of triaging, Compton-Phillips says Providence built a COVID-19 chat bot as a first-step assessment tool for consumers. Through the bot, individuals are able to access telehealth virtual visits or a nurse phone line. They activated the chat bot on Monday, and on day one, 5,000 people used the tool. She says the number of users has only increased since then. 

Compton-Phillips also says Providence plans to utilize fever or respiratory clinics later this week — an option they learned about through speaking with doctors in China. For in-person visits, Providence plans to set up tents and other designated sites as clinics for patients with fevers or respiratory issues as a means to reduce community transmission.

Compton-Phillips described the process of testing for COVID-19 as a “continuously evolving and reasonably frustrating experience for everybody.” However, she thinks that the logjam in testing capacity is starting to break.

“The opportunities have definitely opened up and pretty soon we think the pipeline will improve so that we can actually significantly increase our testing capacity. We’ve developed our own test internally; we have yet to be able to get reagents to run it because all the reagents are made over in Europe.”

“There just simply are not the reagents in the country. And so, we still have been triaging who gets tested, which is why the virus has spread in the community because we couldn’t screen everybody for it early on.”

She says later this week, depending on the reagent supply that comes in, they should be able to run about 500 of Providence’s internal test kits per day. This will increase as more of the reagents become available.  

Compton-Phillips says Providence will also operate drive-through testing clinics similar to those in operation in South Korea, as soon as they have the testing capacity to do so. 

In her presentation, Compton-Phillips outlined her “biggest learnings” from Providence’s COVID-19 response including:


Image: Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, Providence St. Joseph Health


Compton-Phillips credits a lot of Providence’s ability to respond to the epidemic to their preparation work. 

“My suspicion is if the trajectory does not change, this is going to be in communities all across the U.S. before we have vaccines and treatments available. So, better to be prepared than to be panicked when the time comes.” 

Her full presentation is available here.