Epic pushes out software update to help spot coronavirus

In addition to the new questionnaire alert, the company says it is reaching out individually to organizations to ensure they have EHR workflows that follow CDC guidelines.
By Mike Miliard
12:12 PM

Coronavirus (photo: National Institutes of Health)

Epic this week sent out an update to its healthcare customers, meant to help providers nationwide detect potential cases of the Wuhan novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.

Epic has standardized the new travel screening questionnaire in an effort to ensure clinicians and other front-line medical staff ask patients about recent international travel.

If patients say they have traveled from China, or show symptoms consistent with Wuhan novel coronavirus, providers are now advised to start isolation precautions to help contain potential infection.

Epic says this new update was developed in collaboration with biocontainment experts, infectious disease physicians and others with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Early this week, the Epic Travel and Communicable Disease Advisory Board, which comprises infectious disease clinicians practicing at healthcare organizations using Epic, started discussing updates to the travel screening in Epic to detect possible cases of 2019-nCoV.

Members of the advisory board include experts at Providence St. Joseph Health in Washington, which, upon treating the first 2019-nCoV case in the United States, "quickly turned on an electronic prompt for doctors and nurses to ask travel screening questions," as reported by Politico.

The board determined that healthcare organizations will automatically get the new coronavirus alert within Epic’s travel screening activity. In addition, Epic says its representatives are reaching out to its provider customers to verify that they have IT workflows that follow CDC guidelines.

In 2014, Epic found itself in the middle of a debate related to another public health crisis – the outbreak of the Ebola virus – and to what extent EHR workflows might be related to timely detection and effective response protocols.

That September, Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted to the emergency department at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, complaining of symptoms consistent with Ebola. Although he told his nurse that he'd recently traveled to Africa, and it was noted in his EHR, that detail wasn't discerned by the physician, who discharged him from the ED. Duncan returned to the hospital four days later with worsening symptoms and only then was he diagnosed as the first Ebola patient in the U.S.

Initially, Texas Health Resources sought to explain why that key travel information was missed by noting that, "as designed, the travel history would not automatically appear in the physician's standard workflow."

Two days later, however, THR walked back that statement, clarifying that there was "no flaw in the EHR in the way the physician and nursing portions interacted related to this event" and that the patient's travel history "was available to the full care team."

At any rate, the case highlighted how technology, the health systems that configure it and the clinicians who use it are all key factors for fast and efficient diagnosis.

"Rapid response to an outbreak is critical to contain it, get patients the treatment they need, and protect other patients and staff," said James Doyle, Epic's clinical informatics R&D lead, in a statement about the new coronavirus update.

He added that Epic is committed to helping ensure its healthcare clients will be "covered by the latest guidelines from the CDC in consultation with leading experts."

“Clinicians on our travel advisory board define the standard for the rapid translation of public health outbreak notifications into actionable warnings," added Dr. Chris Alban, a clinical informaticist at Epic. "Organizations using Epic automatically get advisories in their system as soon as they’re created. Health systems can respond quickly with this configuration that’s been vetted by the experts."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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