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Analysis

How AHN is Managing Patient Access During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Christopher Cheney  
   April 10, 2020

Allegheny Health Network has set patient access strategies for hospitals and primary care.

Allegheny Health Network is pursuing a multipronged strategy to maintain patient access during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the health system's president and CEO says.

In hotspot states such as New York, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely strained hospital and primary care capacity. Many other states such as Michigan, New Jersey, and Louisiana also are facing daunting capacity challenges. The United States leads the world in reported COVID-19 cases at more than 468,000 as of April 10, according to worldometer.

HealthLeaders recently talked with AHN President and CEO Cynthia Hundorfean to see how the Pittsburgh-based health system is managing patient access as the number of COVID-19 cases rise in Pennsylvania. Before joining AHN, she was chief administrative officer at Cleveland Clinic. Hundorfean earned her executive master of business administration degree from Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of HealthLeaders' conversation with Hundorfean.

HealthLeaders: What are the biggest hospital and primary care access challenges that AHN is facing in the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hundorfean: On the hospital side, the biggest challenge is preparing for a surge with an unknown timeframe and severity. We continue our planning efforts around supplies, personal protective equipment, beds, and staffing. Challenges around testing supplies continue.

On the primary care side, we do not have or anticipate access challenges. We have converted nearly 80% of our primary care visits to virtual (video, telephonic or e-visits) so that sick patients are able to be seen safely.

HL: How are you planning to triage hospital and primary care access if you experience a COVID-19 patient surge?

Hundorfean: We are working to ensure that we have as many beds available as possible. This means opening all licensed beds, converting existing sites of care—such as ambulatory surgery centers, and working with local leaders to secure locations for alternative hospital sites.

From a primary care perspective, we are able to temporarily and safely defer some chronic and well care to open up access for acute care needs. We also have initiated 24/7 on-demand virtual visits for acute care.  

HL: How are you managing hospital access for COVID-19 patients?

Hundorfean: We are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines with regard to our screening and treatment protocols of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients to minimize the risk of transmission and protect the health of our caregivers and other patients in the facilities. Caregivers are equipped with the recommended personal protective equipment, patients are in isolation rooms, visitation is prohibited, and enhanced cleaning protocols of clinical spaces have been implemented.  

HL: How are you managing hospital access for non-COVID-19 patients?

Hundorfean: We have followed CDC guidelines and postponed all non-emergent surgeries. We have also postponed most wellness visits or moved these to a virtual setting. Ensuring the safety of non-COVID-19 patients in our hospitals is a top priority. We are utilizing negative pressure rooms for those patients who are COVID-19 positive or suspected positive, and we continue to follow strict protocols to avoid cross contamination.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Telemedicine is the centerpiece of AHN's strategy to maintain primary care patient access.

At AHN's 12 hospitals, the most significant patient access challenge is preparing for a patient surge with an unknown timeframe and severity.

AHN's strategy for maintaining patient access at hospitals includes following federal guidelines for screening and treatment of confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients.


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