5 ways to reduce time and data gaps in incident command

Nurse colleagues talking at corridor before an surgery on hospital

Hospital bureaucracy serves a purpose—to determine and enforce standards in care, expenditure, operations, security, etc.—but incident command teams need to accelerate action to minimize the harm of crisis and maximize effective outcomes. 

Pre-COVID-19, few even imagined hospitals could reach and consistently maintain full occupancy across states, or nurses and doctors would wash their gloved hands to reuse supplies. However, clinicians, hospital staff, and administrators all cut through complexity to streamline processes during a crisis.

“We were not stuck on perfection. We were really focused on, ‘Let’s get something in place and use continuous improvement to keep making it better,’” said Matt Cook, Indiana University (IU) Health’s chief strategy officer and president of Riley Hospital for Children in Center for Connected Medicine’s Top of Mind Online webinar “Learning through Crisis.”

Use this checklist to respond to crises quickly without losing pertinent information in a streamlined process.

1. Set a focus for planning.

Tune out the noise, distraction, and conflicting demands. Set and maintain a focus on a mission to see you through the crisis. For some institutions, that will mean caring for select patients or providing limited services. 

“We were very tight about a few things,” including decision drivers and decision-making processes, Cook said. “We really honed in on our surge plans and on team-based staffing models, on our triggers, what was going to drive changes in operations.”

2. Create unique central sources of information.

During a crisis, there is a desire for information, internally and externally. Schools, community leaders, employers, and others look to local healthcare professionals for advice as to how to prevent infection and how to care for those who are affected. 

IU revamped its entire communications strategy. It developed and launched an intranet site for its internal audience to share facts about supply of PPE, numbers of patients admitted and in specialty care units, and numbers of team members in quarantine.

It extended the same data to external audiences, served by liaisons from the incident command team who explicitly communicated with the public. In addition to data specific to IU hospitals, these team members shared information from government agencies. Regional media and citizens trusted IU as a credible and complete source of knowledge, Cook said.

3. Be transparent with staff.

After each incident command meeting, consider publishing notes and decisions, with a summary in bullet points for quick absorption by clinicians and staff. 

Key items to communicate:

  • Process and policy changes for the crisis
  • Equipment supply levels and utilization plan
  • Supply replenishment strategy and forecast
  • Operational changes for the crisis
  • Facility and services availability (openings and closures)

4. Communicate to all stakeholders simultaneously.

“We were very effective in getting out information effectively,” Cook said. “Prior to this, we cascaded information. Now we communicate to a larger audience at the same time.”

5. Initiate recovery.

Incident command isn’t designed to last forever. But the lessons learned can push better communication between hospital departments, facilities within a health system, healthcare institutions and their communities, and medical centers across a state. Benefits include more efficient resource management, operational improvement, and cost savings.

PwC acknowledges that in 2020, many healthcare organizations saw their financial plans obliterated. In 2021, they will reimagine healthcare. 

Digital technology can remediate everyday obstacles to real-time, efficient communication, improving collaborative decision-making and information dissemination.


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