SNAFU tent: Optimizing a Covid-19 Mass Vaccine effort at Many Levels

Dancin’ away troubles at UCHealth’s SNAFU tent for Covid Mass Vaccination

Optimizing the Mass Vaccine Event

This will be a fun exploration from a CMIO’s perspective. Let’s think about individuals and work our way up to national optimization, from a personal perspective. And, don’t miss the SNAFU Tent Vaccine Dance at the end…

Seven Levels of thinking

  • Level 1: Make myself efficient
  • Level 2: Make my pit-crew efficient
  • Level 3: Make all pit-crews efficient
  • Level 4: Make the entire Mass Vaccine efficient
  • Level 5: Optimize Mass Vaccine for volume or cost
  • Level 6: Optimize Health System Vaccination plan
  • Level 7: Optimize National Vaccination

1. Make myself efficient

Readers may remember recent writeups where I incrementally overcome my lack of skill as a physician at vaccinating. I’m a quick study, and when great nurses and medical assistants are around to teach, I got better quickly. See above, with the pre-peeled bandaid/ vaccine/ alcohol swab grip, and second hand to manage the smartphone electronic documentation. I’m MOB-ILE.

Here’s the set up: have an assistant play “keep ahead” by peeling bandaids. The hardest part of the job is peeling bandaids with gloves on.

The next hard part is that vinyl gloves stiffen in cold weather. So, use the sani-wipe jug to elevate your glove box closer to the propane heater. Smart! Actually even that wasn’t really warm enough, so I took to doing this:

I call this “praying to the propane gods.” Or, holding the gloves up for 5 seconds of warmth: makes a huge difference in the ease of putting them on (150 times that day).

Handwarmers: Even better idea

Of course, Bernice comes to me near the end of the day and tells me “Dr. Lin, put 2 handwarmers in your coat pockets and put your next pair of gloves in them, so you always have warm gloves to swap.

“D’oh!” as Homer Simpson would say. Why didn’t I think of that?! Thanks, Bernice.

Colorado Rockies’ Dinger drops by

2: Make my pit-crew efficient

This section is actually mis-labelled. My pit crew made ME efficient. Unlike previous days, where I built up such an efficient process that I was able to stay ahead of my pit-crew colleagues in our 4-car pit-stop, today I was teamed up with 3 outstanding medical assistants from Lowry Internal Medicine, my own UCHealth clinic in Denver: Marina, Yanira and Bernice. The tables were turned: now, every time I looked up from my completed vaccination, the other cars in my pit had already gone! Too fast, gals! You’re too fast for me. 😦

Team Lowry, with my BFF’s.

View of the Mega tent with 4 of the 8 rows, and the pharmacy (vaccine reconstitution tent to the right). The other 4 rows are out of sight to the right of the pharmacy tent. We can vaccinate 32 cars in 8 rows at a time this way. Furthermore, we would huddle and learn from each other “How are you going so fast? What is your set up? How do you ask the screening questions? Where do you put the sharps container?” etc. Thank you, smart colleagues, for teaching me.

3: Make all pit-crews efficient

To further smooth the process, given what we had learned on previous weeks, we posted 4 SNAFU tents after the Mega-tent that we would refer to for any slow-downs or technical concerns. For example, one car pulled up with 3 people to be vaccinated. I would perform one vaccination, and since my row was ready to roll by then, I would place a red card on the windshield, indicating SNAFU and the flaggers would direct the car to receive the remaining 2 shots about 100 yards away. This simple workflow adjustment (4 SNAFU tents for all 8 pit-crews) kept ALL 8 lines moving. This was a difference (for me) between vaccinating 124 people one day and 158 the next. Super smooth.

Another example: a patient drove up and their Electronic Record account showed “second vaccine already administered.” I couldn’t solve it with my smartphone Rover app, so I referred him to the SNAFU tent.

After some investigation, we found out later that day, it turns out that another organization in town had incorrectly registered that patient (a common first and last name and somehow erroneously documented date of birth) so that the mistaken vaccine APPEARED in OUR system on this patient (our separate Epic EHR’s share vaccine records now) that he had already had his second shot (incorrectly). We presume this was because some institutions are still using a paper-vaccination process with “document later” staff (as we did last month, in favor of speedy vaccinations). This re-introduces errors that the EHR was supposed to eliminate (bad handwriting and transcription errors). Hmm.

We are glad we are now using the Rover smartphone app. We’ve tinkered with it so that it is now possible to be as fast with Rover as with paper (AND eliminating the transcription step). 50 seconds with paper, and 50 seconds with Rover. Ha!

4: Make the entire Mass Vaccine efficient

We had lots of competing concerns to keep in mind, when thinking about the entire effort. Police were concerned about backing up waiting cars into nearby streets. (whew, we avoided this). How many total staff were needed to register patients? (too many in version 1) How many tents to rent for these events? (originally 1 mega and 18 cabana-style tents, now 1 mega and 2 cabanas) How would we deal with inclement weather? (snow, rain, black ice, wind: the mega-tent is superior to cabanas for keeping staff out of the weather and minimizing wifi and cell-booster mesh network issues; FYI, my new 5G iPhone 12 pro max was awesome in our pilot testing for speedy smartphone documentation)

Our diligent road crew out there dodging and managing tent-avalanches.

We have been pleased to constantly drive down out patient-throughput times, down to 22 minutes (including the 15 minute observation period)! And this past week on Sunday, we drove our total time down to 16 minutes in some cases: 1.5 minutes for registration, vaccination, a couple minute driving time, and then a 10-minute observation period. Wow. We believe we are the fastest Mass Vaccine service in the country at this rate. Even better, we are making observation OPTIONAL going forward, because of our non-existent severe reaction rate.

We believe we can expand beyond 10,000 per weekend, and believe we can do 20,000 or possibly 26,000 per weekend, if the State has vaccine supply and would like us to.

5: Optimize Mass Vaccine for volume or cost

So, what is the goal of a Mass Vaccine event? Publicity for vaccination? Sure, we had news helicopters circling, lots of press, lots of people commenting on how easy it was, and how much they’re looking forward to hugging grandkids.

We can optimize for convenience for frail elderly. Sure, stay in your car from home, back to home, no walking. Can we help people avoid healthcare settings? Sure.

We can optimize for speed: in which case, bring more vaccinators, and rent a second mega-tent. There is room in this massive parking lot for more staff, we can create more lanes and instead of 32 at a time, we could do 48 cars or more. 20,000 per weekend is entirely conceivable, if vaccine supply were up to it (not yet).

Or, we can optimize for lower cost. With our original full teams in the early weeks, we overstaffed and calculated a per-vaccine operating cost in the mid $20’s. Of course, the vaccine itself, is free to us and patients, paid for by the feds. But, tents, staff, project managers, coordinators with police, state, county and city government, vaccinators, training team, pharmacy team, coolers and vaccine supply chain management, traffic tents, snow removal, medical observation team, volunteer-coordinating managers, paramedics, command center coordinators, walkie-talkies, workstations on wheels, smartphone devices, wifi repeaters, cellular repeaters, scheduling of appointments, design of vaccine clinics… pretty soon it is a big operation. After a couple days, and constant re-design, we were able to trim operations down into the $17 range.

6: Optimize Health System Vaccination plan

First Covid Mass Vaccine design, last month, at Coors Field, Denver

Vaccinating patients on-site at University of Colorado Hospital, Bruce Schroeffel Auditorium

Outdoor vaccine guy vs Indoor vaccine guy

AND THEN. We compare our Mass Vaccine efforts to our ongoing (but less splashy) vaccine clinics in 10 facilities across UCHealth, spread across the entire state of Colorado, at even lower per-vaccine cost, with the capability of 5,000 to 10,000 per day. We are hiring permanent staff to run these vaccine clinics and stop borrowing from clinical teams across our system, as we think we will be doing this for quite some time.

Volunteers?

It is gratifying that we have lots of folks (many retired) willing to volunteer their time. The challenge with accepting this help is: it can be more expensive to run a scheduling calendar and training for hundreds (?thousands) of part-time (or one-time) volunteers than it is to have a reliable, skilled steady crew to take care of business. For the rare volunteer who COULD come regularly (for 8 or 10 hour shifts!) (for months!), that would be a blessing. And, as this vaccine saga goes on, we may indeed need more help.

Pop-up Outreach Clinics for the medically Under-served

Another effort I’m grateful for, are our Pop-Up vaccine clinics. We are taking our show on the road to multiple community centers and churches in medically under-served neighborhoods, where leaders are helping us schedule thousands of vaccination appointments among their neighbors. I’m heading to several in the coming weeks. (stand by for more posts from the front lines!)

UCHealth has given 270,000 vaccines, about 20% of Colorado’s total to date.

Yup, you read that right.

From this graph, you see our green Mass Vaccination events occurring on 2 weekends. Dark blue is University Hospital with over 13,000 vaccines given per week, and our other regions similarly. Light blue is South region, Purple is North region. Red includes our small hospital and outreach clinics at about 10,000 a week. Again, limited by supply.

7: Optimize National Vaccination

A rising tide lifts all boats.

For those interested, UCHealth has published a playbook for other organizations: https://www.uchealth.org/covid-19-mass-vaccination-planning/ with lots more details.

And Finally: a SNAFU Tent Vaccine Dance?

Is this real? Apparently, yes. Dr. Jonathan Pell and our elite crew of SNAFU tent staffers put together a dance invitation for upcoming cars.

I was surprised to find out how many younger colleagues had never heard of the term SNAFU.

The good news? Our process worked so well, the SNAFU team did not have much to do, a few cars here and there during the day. So much time, in fact, that they came up with their own DANCE.

I have no words.

CMIO’s take? How to get better in Seven Different Ways. Let’s go!

Covid Be-Gone. 10,000 Vaccines, One Weekend: UCHealth @ Coors Field.

Billie, Alex, and some crazy doctor, newly recruited Pit Crew. Biggest innovation? Billie’s smiling face on her button! Why haven’t we all done this!?

Our team is at it again!

The Rockies and Coors Field welcomed the UCHealth crew, this time for a 2-day, 10,000 vaccine event Jan 30 and 31. It was a smashing success, and tremendous fun, to boot.

Our fearless leader, Ali Hererra, giving last-minute tips to an eager 630am crew.

The new kid on the block

The new kid on the block: a neck-lanyard, battery-pack augmented iPhone with the EHR mobile app installed for on-the-fly vaccine documentation from QR bar-codes.

Gratitude!

Our vaccine clients show tremendous gratitude; we love the spontaneous cheering and applause that break out at times while the cars are moving through. One even handed us an unexpected gratitude card today!

What’s the count?

Here’s my tally for one day of vaccination: 150 for each day, 300 for the weekend. Unanticipated outcome? Donning and doffing gloves 150 times in quick succession causes some hand irritation and a need for heavy doses of vaseline petroleum jelly at the end of the day.

I proudly showed my clinical informatics colleague my collection of vaccine caps in my pocket (see how clever I was to keep track of my productivity?), and she promptly told me: Well, it is easier just to run a report (Thanks, Kristin). Um-hm. And I call myself a CMIO.

Efficiency tip?

Efficiency tip? Here’s the latest: Non-dominant hand: bandaid on the thumb, half peeled. Vaccine, ready to go. Pre-peeled alcohol swab. Dominant hand: Mobile device on a lanyard or in a coat-pocket, QR code scanner ready, some quick screening questions and screen-taps, vaccine documented in EHR, give vaccine, walk back to tent and re-supply while our student hands out the vaccine card and follow-up instructions. Rock-and-Roll.

First of all, our team CRUSHED the scheduled volume today. At our peak, we vaccinated more than 1000 people per hour, with average throughput times of 22.5 minutes (that’s INCLUDING the 15 minute observation).

To say that another way: we timed cars arriving at Check-in Registration at time ZERO, got screened, registered, consented, and vaccinated in about EIGHT MINUTES. And 15 minutes after that, they were rolling out of the observation area. WAT?!

We had numerous people exclaiming: “This is unreal, how smooth it is.” With masks on, we’re getting good at reading the smiling eyes. Wave after wave of grateful vaccine recipients.

Current Vaccine Tent workflow

The Tent 8 “A-team.” Billie Martinez, medical assistant, Brittney Poggiogalle, PA student, Alexander Jimenez, medical assistant (working hard). Thanks for making us all look good!

Turns out it is easy to “infect” colleagues with the enthusiasm I have for optimizing our workflow, which is now:

  1. Vaccinator sets up the non-dominant hand with vaccine, bandaid and swab (see above)
  2. Patient arrives with QR bar code ready on their phone (from My Health Connection or a printout). No Bar code? No problem, a last name search is only a few seconds more. Beep! 3 screening questions, done!
  3. Vaccinate! (previously described)
  4. Pivot our positions, and our student volunteer steps up and hands the vaccine card with followup instructions to proceed to observation area and to NOT MISS their next appointment (already booked for 3 weeks from now).
  5. DONE! our best cycle time: ABOUT 70 SECONDS INCLUDING DOCUMENTATION.
  6. Perhaps even more exciting, talking to each other about Lean process, discussing throughout the morning, how to stay safer: remember to tell drivers to put it in Park! Remind each other as we walk up and down, to stay out of the driving lane! When standing at your work table, prep your supplies with your body turned facing the line to be aware of your environment. Tell each other if you see something to improve.
  7. All 3 vaccinators have their own neck-lanyard mobile documentation tool, and we can give about a vaccine every 1.5 to 2 minutes including drive-up time, and one student keeps us supplied with peeled bandaids, filled-out vaccine cards, and explains next steps to the drivers, allowing the vaccinators time to re-set for the next care. It is a beautiful dance.

A Lean Lecture?

Talking with a colleague later, I reflected that I got so excited about our efficiency, that I gave a mini-lecture during the morning to our team and student volunteer on Lean process. My colleague then replied: “Oh no, Student! Wrong Tent! Wrong Tent!” implying that no student needs a lecture from an over-enthusiastic CMIO on a weekend. (Thanks for the commentary, Dr. Bajaj).

Our previous worries about backlog of paper charting needing later data entry?Gone!

The cool thing about this setup is: we did not pre-identify which cars had slow-down factors like: more than one scheduled vaccine recipient per car, no bar-code, occasional technical glitch, or lots of clinical questions. Occasionally, if one car took a little longer, the other 2 vaccinators would walk up the line and greet the next car. Once the line opened up, everyone slid forward easily. A handheld mobile and a one-hand vaccine supply made us nimble. None of us was waiting around, unless our line of cars emptied out entirely.

I enjoyed hearing the pharmacists on-site, who were mixing up batches in real-time (the Pfizer: needing to defrost and reconstitute from -70!), on the walkie-talkies discussing which tents needed more vaccine: “We’re almost out again at Tent 8.” “Okay, on the way with another batch of 25.” With our throughput (3 vaccinators, cycle time about 2 minutes simultaneously), that batch would only last us about 18 minutes. Loved every minute of it.

The CMIO in me wanted up-to-the-minute vaccine stats from the other tents. Not that I was feeling competitive. No. Not me.

The Pit Crew

Not being satisfied with even this, mid-morning we were asked to transition to a Pit-Crew method being piloted by our Clinical Informatics nurses. In our standard lanes, cars would pause at one of 6 Registration lines, drive down a lane and then be split into 16 vaccine tents. The Pit Crew were doing both Registration AND Vaccination in the Registration (big white) tent. Then, no second stop, straight to Observation. It was going so well, we recruited additional people to run a second line.

INSIDE the big tent. Four cars in a row. One stop to do it all. We don’t have all the timing numbers yet, but we believe this may take additional seconds or minutes out of our cycle time. There are some potential downsides to this configuration VERSUS our vaccine tent configuration; the registration workstations on wheels (WOWs) aren’t as nimble in traffic compared to our handhelds, so walking upstream when there is a delay is not practical, and if one car takes longer inside the tent, there is more potential delay. The upside: one stop could make the transit time much shorter per vehicle.

At the end of the weekend, ZERO DOSES WASTED. 10,000 given. ZERO significant complications in the observation area. Dr. Richard Zane calculates that the 10,000 vaccinated patients means that 157 fewer people will die of Covid as a result of our actions this weekend. Wow.

Stay tuned! We’re already performing at a high level, but we think there are yet improvements to make, while keeping patient and team safety our top priority. The work of our Incident Command structure has been a joy to watch, with team leads in constant communication with the Rockies, the Denver Police, the State, County and City.

Here’s a CBS Denver news article about us, with more photos from a drone.

CMIO’s take. Who knew that Toyota Lean Process could help vaccine administration? Furthermore, I’ll say it again: Get us more vaccine! We can handle it.

The Invite-Only Mass Vaccination Trial Run by UCHealth at Coors Field: an Insider’s Peek

Outdoor vaccine guy says: come along, I’ll show you what I learned.

Indoor vaccine guy dresses differently from Outdoor Vaccine guy

The UCHealth team held its first Mass Vaccination trial at Coors Field on Sunday 1/24. This was the first Mass Vaccine effort in Colorado, and was coordinated with the City and County of Denver, CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), Denver Police, Verizon, Denver Health, Stadium Medical and the Governor’s Office. Weeks in the planning, dozens of clinicians, staff and coordinators swarmed the location assembling, arranging, tweaking.

2 hours: 1000 vaccines?

For this event, we planned to give 1000 vaccines in 2 hours to stress-test our design plan and to see if we could maintain or exceed this pace for future events. This was an invite-only event with 500 patients selected from UCHealth existing patients and 500 from newly-signed-up for vaccine from the UCHealth website for the general public aged 70+ per State current guidelines.

Between 6 and 7am, we assembled, got last-minute instructions for our many roles: runners, flaggers, registrars, traffic control, vaccinators, timers, process engineers, clinical observers, flow coordinators, etc etc. Here, I’m standing under a heat lamp, warming my hands for the day to come. The big white tent is registration-confirmation. Sorry, no drop-ins.

Team Number ONE!

With Dr. Jenny Bajaj, CMO of UCHealth Medical Group and Andrew Mariotti, medical student and process timer. We, of course, snagged Vaccine Tent #1. For work like this, snow pants recommended.

The UCHealth team set up a small batch of cars to arrive between 8 and 9am, to work out the kinks at every vaccine station; each station received 2-4 cars to test our supplies and workflow, and see if the runners, pharmacists, flaggers, observers had any questions about their jobs.

We then huddled between 9-10am to debrief questions from the team, then BOOM. Our full-speed test was from 10-12am with 1000 cars to come through in that time.

From the fourth floor of the Coors lot parking garage, the command center station. The RTD commuter trains run along the left, Blake Street on the right, the big white registration tent, where we catch and release any folks without appointment. The Mass Vaccine event (like EVERY Covid vaccine clinic) is highly calibrated down to our last vaccine. If we accepted drop-ins or family members, we would run out for our scheduled patients.

In the right row of tents, the first (most distant from us) tent is for registrations taking longer than usual, so that no registration line gets held up. Vaccine Tent 1 is thus the second (tiny) tent on the right. See me waving? No? No.

Our observation area (not shown) is actually behind the photographer, on the other side of the parking garage, with flaggers guiding the way.

Work station setup.

We re-arranged our area to be increasingly efficient. Working in teams of 2 allowed us to iteratively reduce our cycle time for each vaccination. Orange bucket 1: our vaccine supply (closely guarded by pharmacy and defrosted just-in-time). Orange bucket 2: pre-opened bandaids. Nothing is harder than cold, gloved hands opening bandaid packets when in a rush. Supply of gloves, alcohol swabs, gauze if needed. Raise the Yellow laminated card to indicate to runners if we needed supplies. Red card: help needed. Pink ribbon: attach to drivers side mirror for those warranting extended observation (eg previous history of anaphylaxis).

Workflow:

*One person waves down the car, checks “Please put it in Park!” (about 1/3 don’t unless asked!) asks the screening questions, confirms which arm, which passenger.
*Simultaneously, second person (vaccinator) doffs/dons gloves, opens alcohol swab, snags a pre-peeled bandaid, grabs a syringe
*Pivot! first person files the screening paper with identity and signatures for later data entry and grabs the vaccine card
*Simultaneously, vaccinator: Swab, Pre-attach 1/2 bandaid, Vaccinate in one motion, auto-retract needle (more on this below), Swipe bandaid across, Done!
*Pivot! first person explains the card, answers any questions, reinforces importance of second appointment, directs driver to proceed to next flagger to wait for the standard 15 minute observation time.
*Simultaneously, vaccinator disposes the syringe, clears trash, dons/doffs gloves and preps the next setup.

With this setup, Dr. Bajaj and I started with about a 90 second cycle time, and with iterative adjustments, pushed our best time down to 59 seconds, with our average running 1:15 to 1:20, if no questions (or profuse thankfulness) from the patients.

On debriefing this, we had several thoughts: the time it takes to chat and manage paper is about the same amount of time to swap gloves, manage supplies, setup. Seems like the 2-person team is, at present, an optimal setup.

In the coming weeks, it may be possible to incorporate a clinician-mobile-app adjunct to our Electronic Health Record that would allow on-the-fly documentation that would take the place of paper questionnaires and signatures when in the field.

Paper is fast, but…

From an informatics perspective, the paper process was a win from a through-put perspective, but an opportunity to streamline data-flow. We had runners taking our paper to the Documentation Tent to be keyed into the EHR in near-real-time.

Contrast that with our in-hospital based vaccine clinic (see my last post) where vaccination and documentation occur in real-time, the EHR and the State Vaccine Registry being updated almost immediately, and with a cycle-time (with one vaccinator/documentor) at about 3 minutes.

Teamwork. One step pivot, the choreographed dance of a one-minute vaccine cycle.

A “Fauci-Ouchie”

as my sister is fond of saying. At the end of our time, Vaccine Station 1 reported 67 vaccines given in 90 minutes. That is EIGHTY (80) seconds per shot. Taking into account the times when our station did not have a car, we think we could have completed 10-20% more shots. We are NOT Throwin’ Away OUR SHOT.

Here’s our high-level debrief. Team leaders from each of our major roles reported in: paramedics, police, City and County and State leaders, the Rockies (THANK YOU FOR OUR USE OF YOUR MASSIVE PARKING LOT AND TRAFFIC EXPERTISE). Very smooth. We think we could increase the pace beyond 1000 per 2 hours. We are targeting 5000 vaccines per day for 2 days next weekend. We’ll see!

Total throughput time per car?

Measured another way, we found that cars moved from Arrival at the Registration Tent to Leaving the 15-min Observation Area: 21-27 minutes. TOTAL.

Zero anaphylaxis events. No paramedic transports. There were very infrequent side effects observed in the observation lots. Everyone drove away successfully.

Local news coverage of our event

Sky9 aerial footage (about half way down the linked article). Tent 1 and my white coat is visible at 20 minutes. Woo!

https://www.9news.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/vaccine/uchealth-to-test-out-covid-19-vaccine-site-at-coors-field/73-96ede931-ad3a-45eb-8778-01de38562844

9News, Sky9 footage

Fox 31: https://kdvr.com/news/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/appointments-required-at-denver-mass-vaccination-site/

Denver Post: https://www.denverpost.com/2021/01/24/covid-vaccine-coors-field-drive-thru-clinic/

Denver Channel 7: https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/uchealth-plans-to-test-run-mass-vaccination-event-at-coors-field

Auto-retracting needle?

Oh, and here’s a gif of the auto-retracting needle. So cool. How did they even fit a spring into the barrel of this tiny thing?

When done correctly, depressing the plunger completely means that the needle retracts from the patient, completely into the barrel of the syringe, eliminating the chance of unintentional needle-stick. Innovation FTW!

CMIO’s take? Mass Vaccination: another chance to innovate, another chance to take a chunk out of the Covid pandemic. Send us more vaccine. We can handle it.

A Good Covid Vaccination Is Like Calligraphy

Join CT on the front line of vaccine clinic at UCHealth!

Hi y’all! I volunteered for a vaccine shift. Me and a couple dozen of my best friends. Here’s the scene: this clinic day was dedicated to second-vaccine doses for nearly 1000 healthcare colleagues, 12 vaccinator stations, and a constant stream of patients down the hallway. Our location can handle 2-3x this number, if we had vaccine supply to do so (and on last Friday, our location and 9 other UCHealth vaccine locations dispensed over 5000 vaccine doses across UCHealth).

Having been a grateful recipient of both my shots, I’m ready to wade in and do my part as well.

Ever wonder what it is like to be a vaccinator at a high-volume vaccine clinic?

On the Vaccine Front Line

First, you receive an email to take your training on EHR documentation requirements ahead of time, and a super quick anatomy refresher on deltoid muscle and intramuscular injections. Easily done, about 10 minutes. Then you report for duty at one of the twice daily 7-hour shifts. You get a quick in-person briefing, some quick hand-holding (ok sounds weird in pandemic times), and off we go!

Here’s my station. Because, as my daughter says, I’m totally into ‘hume-optimizing’ (determining the optimal way for humans to do things – sometimes to the great annoyance of family members or colleagues: sorry y’all) I thought hard and asked lots of questions of my more experienced medical assistants and nurses sitting nearby. Here’s what I learned:

  • Card colors: Green card: hold in air when ready for another patient; Yellow card: running out of any supplies; Red card: medical question (just embarrassing to hold this one up if you’re a physician)
  • Computer: login, find the immunization clinic, filter out discharged patients, sort by time of arrival, click to remove word-wrap to show more patients per screen.
  • The data entry fields pull forward 80% of relevant data to each new patient, as well as the vaccine name, lot#, and details, and I’m down to just confirming patient identity, confirming injection site (6- R deltoid, 7-L deltoid: even the physical mapping makes it easy: when patient facing you, the 6 key is on the same side as the patient’s R arm!), asking the 3 screening Q.
  • Then the shot itself! Vaccine syringe (obvious) but don’t stick yourself or the patient unintentionally. (HOT TIP) And when you insert the needle, do it with a quick pop so that breaking the skin and finishing the motion are in the same moment and the patient’s sensory nerves don’t get a chance to register more than one ‘oh’ of surprise. Specifically, don’t be slow.
  • (HOT TIP from a PA colleague in Interventional Radiology) hold the syringe between your thumb and 3rd and 4th digits, with your index positioned over the plunger. Really? That’s the way? (Sooooo much faster than my jab, then switch hands, try not to be awkward, plunge, untangle my hands and pull back) and the jab+plunge was now less than a second. Level up! (Gamer talk). After my “technique improvement” lots of patients were surprised: “Hey! Didn’t feel that at all!”
https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2017/03/28/maggie-cross-chinese-painting/
  • (Irrelevant aside) I notice that this new syringe grasp is reminiscent of the way you are to hold a Chinese Calligraphy brush, like you are cupping an egg and then grasping the brush. Ah, such elegance.
  • (HOT TIP From a brilliant nurse colleague) After the alcohol swab of the deltoid, pre-attach half of the bandaid and let it hang down. That way, you know where to put the shot and you don’t lose track (if no spot of blood) of where it went as you look away to dispose of the syringe. Then flip the bandaid fully on, VOILA! Totally changed my life.
  • Click the needle protector closed with one finger, toss in Sharps container.
  • Mumble sweet nothings to your anxious client while doing the next steps. Answer any questions.
  • Type ‘n’ in the time field to get the time Now. Click Accept to complete the vaccine charting. Their patient portal account is automatically updated, and the State Vaccine Registry is updated (I believe either real-time or at midnight every night)! Add 15 minutes to write onto a sticky note to attach to their vaccine card for them to know when they can leave if feeling okay.
  • Reach for a tiny sticker to put on the vaccine card with vaccine name, lot#, date, location.
  • Smile with your eyes, gesture to the seating area.
  • (HOT TIP from another RN colleague): Wipe down: with gloves on, pull an antiseptic wipe for the desk, chair, relevant surfaces. Whip off gloves, rip and prep an alcohol swab and bandaid —easier with gloves off. New pair of gloves, position a new syringe on desk, check if running low on supplies, raise the green card.
  • NEXT! Cycle time when all was humming, as little as 3 minutes. Less time than it took to read this.

Of course, GEEZ some patients had the temerity to ask questions. Or we would briefly run low on vaccine as the pharmacy team whipped up another batch in the next room, or someone had to run for sticky notes or wipes or gloves etc. Or maybe I NEEDED A POTTY BREAK, OK? Other times, we would have lulls in the action. Then it was up to our green-card-waving skills as to which of a half dozen vaccinators the lone patient would walk to.

Here’s a counterintuitive tip for non-medical workers.

You might think that having your vaccine done by a person in green scrubs or a white coat (in my case, both) would be ideal: they’re the doctors or providers. In our organization, nurses wear dark blue scrubs, medical assistants wear dark purple (violet?). Almost uniformly, the docs volunteering haven’t given vaccinations since … medical school. In my case, 30+ years ago. My recommendation: go with blue or violet scrubs for technical proficiency and years of practice. Of course, if you want a long medical conversation, by all means stop by my booth!

Here’s my tally. Actually 55 by end of day. I figured out that I could keep my needle caps on the desk until I had a break to make my hash marks and throw out the caps. The system worked. I know many of my RN and MA partners were quicker than me or had better patient-attracting green-card-waving skills or took shorter breaks. Not bad for my first half-day shift.

This was unlike my daily work.

As a physician in an internal medicine clinic I would worry about how to reduce the blood sugar of an overweight, depressed and anxious diabetes patient with high blood pressure, severe arthritis, needing wheelchair repairs, a dozen prescription refills and several prior-authorization meds, and now with several new worrisome symptoms and family pressures. As CMIO I would worry about how to balance the anger of providers spending long hours writing notes and orders versus allowing a sloppy, error-prone verbal-order paper-like system. And how to allocate time and effort between reducing physician burnout and improving predictive algorithms when those projects were sometimes in conflict.

Working in a vaccine clinic by contrast was like playing a fun, fast-paced, team-based video game (not that I would know): clear goals, mutual reinforcement, visible progress, strong team camaraderie, repetitive (and improving) physical skills, opportunities for rapid learning, immediate positive feedback and customer appreciation, excitement over doing a public good. We were IN THE ZONE.

Honestly, on good days, both regular clinic and informatics work is like this too.

What’s not to like?

Oh, here’s one of our physician leaders, Dr. Andy Meacham, even with everything he knows about how docs are the worst vaccinators, willing to be my victim. Thank you for your service, Dr. Meacham.

Gratitude

Honestly, it humbles me to part of such an amazing organization that assembled the people, the process, the tools so that I could drop in as part of a well-oiled machine, only a couple weeks into this brand new process. I’ve noted quite a few physician leader colleagues also taking part. So cool. 

“Covid-19, Yes, Your Days are Numbered! We’ll take back our streets and those jobs you’ve plundered!” — CT Lin & his terrible (My Shot – Covid) ukulele song

If all this talk gets you interested in the vaccine, See my recent blog post on how to get in line for a vaccine at UCHealth

CMIO’s take? Serving as a Covid Vaccine vaccinator was one of the most gratifying things I’ve done. I’m signing up for more shifts. See you soon!

Sign up for COVID Vaccine at UCHealth. (The EHR is our superpower).

UCHealth, like all health systems across the state of Colorado, are following the guidance of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). As the guidelines change (sometimes daily!) we follow the guidelines. Our supply of COVID-19 Vaccine is closely tracked, and each next shipment depends on our adherence to guidelines.

The change

We are now opening up vaccination signups to segments of the general public beyond health care workers. See the CDPHE guidelines here: https://covid19.colorado.gov/for-coloradans/vaccine/vaccine-for-coloradans. Based on the state’s plan, UCHealth is focusing efforts on vaccinations for people 70 years old and older. You do not need to be a UCHealth patient in order to get vaccinated.  

Here is how it works

Keep in mind that most health systems in Colorado are working on vaccine distribution. Please first check with your primary care provider or primary health system. For those over 70 with interest in getting their vaccine from UCHealth,

  1. We will use My Health Connection, the patient portal for UCHealth’s electronic health record, to communicate with people. If you have an active My Health Connection account, you will automatically receive updates regarding the vaccine. If you do not have an active My Health Connection account, please create one to receive these updates. To learn more and create an account, go to www.uchealth.org/covidvaccine.
  1. Over 80% of patients at UCHealth have a MHC account, and we’ll be using our Electronic Health Record (EHR) to determine our patients who meet the criteria for vaccine (currently, using date-of-birth to calculate age 70+).
  2. You DON’T have to be an existing UCHealth patient or be seeing a UCHealth provider to create an MHC account and to indicate your interest in the COVID-19 Vaccine.
  3. You WILL need to have an email address and be able to access the patient portal yourself. You may have a proxy (trusted designee) sign up for you; keep in mind that this proxy would also potentially have access to your UCHealth electronic health records as well.
  4. At this time, we do not have enough vaccine doses to offer it to everyone. As UCHealth receives shipments of the vaccine, we are providing it as quickly as possible, according to the state’s plan. As we receive additional quantities of vaccine, we will send vaccination invitations through our randomized selection process to give everyone the same chance of receiving a vaccine.
  5. When vaccine becomes available to your phase of distribution, you will receive an invitation from My Health Connection with instructions about how to schedule your vaccine appointments. Please be patient until you see the message titled “Urgent: Schedule your COVID-19 vaccine”. When you receive this message, you will be able to schedule both vaccine doses. You will have 48 hours to get your appointments scheduled. If you miss the 48-hour time frame, you will receive a new opportunity to schedule in a future distribution phase. 
  6. An appointment is required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine; walk-ins cannot be accommodated.
  7. For the most current information regarding COVID-19 vaccines, go to the COVID-19 vaccine page on the UCHealth website.

The EHR is our superpower

This process has worked well for our first 37,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, and we plan on scaling up further, as vaccine availability improves.

Some may criticize us for using an electronic patient portal and perhaps leaving out those without access to the internet. (I have even heard the term “digitalism.” However, looking that up, it seems to mean “being poisoned by digitalis from the foxglove plant.” Hmm. But we digress.)

At the same time, we’re putting plans in place to ensure that those without access to a computer or smartphone also have access to the vaccine. Through phone hotlines, clinics that target low-income areas of the state, and outreach to underserved communities, we aim to provide the vaccine fairly to everyone. Some of these efforts have already begun.

Our main point from using our patient portal was that, using our existing infrastructure where we already have nearly 1 million patients, we could move quickly, filter our patients by age, and create and send invitations thousands at a time. This contrasts with those who might have to postal-mail invitations or make phone calls and set up (and staff-up!) a phone bank, that could take days and weeks. 

We launched the invitation and scheduling process over one weekend (thank you and sorry to our IT and project leaders who built this) and offered vaccines the next weekday after receipt of our first batch. I’m so grateful to work with such amazing colleagues and their amazing teams, and grateful that we have an existing information technology infrastructure that allows this. The EHR is our superpower.

News items

Fox31 news (patients 70+): https://kdvr.com/news/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/uchealth-patients-over-70-start-getting-vaccinated/

The Coloradoan: https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2021/01/05/covid-19-colorado-next-up-vaccine-heres-what-know/4127958001/

9news (mass vaccination): https://www.9news.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/vaccine/colorado-hospital-systems-get-ready-for-mass-vaccinations/73-3f1a2fbb-df90-4007-8f1d-35c372c71414

KOAA news (mobile clinic):
https://www.koaa.com/news/covering-colorado/uc-health-goes-mobile-with-covid-19-vaccine-in-colorado-springs

UCHealth mobile vaccine clinic: https://www.uchealth.org/today/older-adults-receive-covid-19-vaccine-at-home-through-mobile-clinic/

UCHealth older adult vaccine news: https://www.uchealth.org/today/older-adults-rejoice-as-they-begin-getting-coronavirus-vaccines/

CMIO’s take? We are excited to be part of the solution for our community throughout Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region!

What clinical informatics is NOT. Also Nerd Glasses and Propeller Hats.

My offspring. An out-take from Go-Go, their K-pop dance routine. See hyperlink below.

I’m reading a book called Mindfulness in Plain English: another book my daughter left laying around the house with her annotations in it. I love the underlining and ‘YES!’ marks and also the ‘is it though? You shouldn’t wait to be perfect…’ comments. Just a few short years ago, she was in the playpen, and now I love to see her mind at work.

Anyhow, mindfulness meditation is something that I aspire to: I have had months where I meditate daily, and there are times when I forget and lose the habit. I have found it calming and centering and have found clarity through the practice.

You can refer to my blog series ‘CT Meditates, a comedy’ from 2017.

What I love about this current book is the chapter on what Meditation is Not. I love it. It helps define the thing by talking about what it is NOT. For example an annotated list:

WHAT MEDITATION IS NOT

  • Misconception 1: meditation is just relaxation
  • Misconception 2: meditation means going into a trance
  • Misconception 3: meditation is mysterious and cannot be understood
  • Misconception 4: meditation is for saints. Not regular people.
  • Misconception 5: meditation is running away from reality

I love this idea. Writing about the negative space helps clarify what something IS. So, here goes.

There are lots of misconceptions about what Clinical Informatics is.

It can be defined as the science and practice of managing information by capturing, storing, analyzing, retrieving, and using data to improve the care of patients and populations.

Sure, whatever. Perhaps it is more meaningful to talk about misconceptions.

WHAT CLINICAL INFORMATICS IS NOT

  • Misconception: informatics people are the secret Star Chamber of the Electronic Health Record. They wear propeller hats or nerd glasses. <– Yes, these are my nerd kids wearing propeller hats and nerd glasses. And yes, I am proud of them.
  • Misconception: informatics helps you set up your computer. (That’s Information Technology)
  • Misconception: informatics has to do with servers, network cables, wifi problems. (still, IT)
  • Misconception: informatics is a way to force people to do things they don’t want to do. (no, no, no)
  • Misconception: informatics is only about designing things, we leave training to others. (ok, partly right, but we all fail if we don’t train adequately)
  • Misconception: informatics is for people who prefer computers and don’t like talking with humans. (no. please do not send us “the doctor who is our resident computer nerd.”)
  • Misconception: informatics is quick and easy, just put a hard stop there, and DONE! (no. we do not “force those other doctors to do this thing because it makes it more convenient for me and my project” UNLESS it is also good for patient care and clinical leaders all agree)
  • Misconception: informatics has no need of customer/user (patient or clinician) feedback. (just no)
  • Misconception: informatics is a special and arcane field that only computer geeks will understand. (sigh. we fail if this happens)
  • Misconception: informatics is a field of medicine where most people tell you, NO we can’t do that.
  • Misconception: informatics always takes months to achieve the goal or complete a project. (when we do Sprints, we can amaze our docs)
  • Misconception: informatics is unnecessary: an EHR project only needs a subject matter expert and a computer analyst (sorry, without an informaticist to translate, such a project is likely to fail)

Informatics is NOT “Hard stop, and Done!” Instead it is building relationships, understanding the pressures and desires of patients, providers, staff, and understanding the ultimate goal of health care.

Indeed, it is perhaps, one of the major advances of modern healthcare. I would argue, the field of “clinical informatics” should eventually become standard curriculum for ALL physicians.

CMIO’s take: Health care is about using our best science, our best work-flow, our best teamwork. We use this information to heal individual patients and improve the health of our communities. We need great, up-to-date information to do that. Only by capturing, storing, analyzing data, creating new knowledge, and delivering that seamlessly to the provider at the bedside (or directly to the patient) can we grow, improve and evolve as a learning health system.

UCHealth launches OurNotes: how patients co-author clinic progress notes

As of November 2, 70 primary care practices went live with Our Notes. Read more about OurNotes here. Dr. Tom Delbanco and Jan Walker, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess initiated and ran the study.

In brief, it is a way for patients, just ahead of an upcoming appointment to tell their provider what has happened to them since their last visit: changes in medication, new or changing symptoms, life changes. And then to ask up to 3 questions they’d like to discuss with their provider at the visit.

These notes were then automatically inserted into the providers’ progress notes. They could then be cited in their entirety, with no action needed by the provider while composing the rest of their progress note. Or, the provider could edit for clarity before signing the note. In this way, both patient and provider contribute the data from that visit, improving communication and collaboration.

We were so successful from our pilot test, conducted in coordination with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), in our one primary care clinic, we have now launched it for ALL primary care clinics throughout UCHealth.

Our early findings showed that over 90% of providers (physicians and APP’s: advance practice providers) responding to surveys viewed OurNotes positively and wanted to continue, as did over 90% of patients who participated.

Not all patients who have a patient-portal account respond to the OurNotes questionnaire ahead of their visit. Those who do not, have a regular visit, just like before. About 15-20% of patients who have an appointment respond send an OurNote, and providers are using the notes regularly.

Others are catching the OurNotes trend as well, including Sanford health, UCLA, and the original OurNotes health system research partners: BIDMC, University of Washington and Dartmouth-Hitchock. Thank you to all the trailblazers out there for transforming patient-centered care.

CMIO’s take? More like this please! IT is a win-win-win: better engagement for patients, shared documentation for providers, more readable, narrative notes in our EHR’s.

EHR v Covid-19. Trends in testing, telehealth, hospitalizations

Welcome back to Where does the data lead?!

Here we are eight plus months into the pandemic and our testing volume and our positivity rates have been up and down. Testing volumes have varied because of limitations on receiving re-agents for our labs to process the specimens. It does appear that our test positivity rate, on the red line above, is increasing this month. This is also concordant with our Colorado state level data.

During this time, UCHealth has continued to grow as a system. We have opened a few new facilities in the past year, so the clinic volume, the patient population we serve, as well as the test volume has increased. So, lots going on here, and probably no one factor explains the pattern.

Visit Volumes at UCHealth

Our in-person visit volume for 2020 showed that precipitous drop in mid March (light red) and then nadir at mid April, with gradual recovery to 90% volume by July. At the same time (light green), our telehealth volume exploded at the same time, from a baseline of 20 visits a day, reaching a peak of about 4000 visits a day by mid April. As we figured out how to see patients safely in clinic, our in-person visits gradually returned and our telehealth volume declined, and we are now steady-state at about 1000 telehealth video-visits per day. Magenta is the scheduled telephone visits, a new visit type that Medicare began reimbursing. Blue is the regular telephone volume, essentially unchanged. The dark red is a gradual but consistent increase in patient portal messages, both gratifying that our patients have found a way to connect with their provider, and also worrisome in that this near-doubling of volume does impact the unreimbursed workload of providers in our system.

Cliffhanger

We are now back to our “cliffhanger” TV series. What will happen tomorrow? UCHealth has restarted our Incident Command Center given the increase in hospitalizations. Like many hospitals around the country, we are seeing a bump in inpatients with COVID-19. We had a peak of about 120 in April, then gradually fallen to a nadir of 17 inpatients in late summer, and are back up to mid 50’s this week, and rising.

CMIO’s take? Hang on to your hats.

When Can I See Results in My Patient Portal?

We are all scrambling to put together simple documents to explain to patients and providers about INFO BLOCKING / SHARING coming in a week. Here’s our latest document. Link to full PDF here. Feel free to adapt this for your organization. We are also hoping our very smart Epic colleagues in Wisconsin can add a patient-preference setting into MyChart to accommodate the variety of patients out there, regarding seeing their own test results.

Remember, the rest of our INFO SHARING education documents are on my last blog post HERE.

CMIO’s take? Are you developing education tools that are simple 1-page explanations of complex topics? Let me know.

UPDATED FOR INFO BLOCKING rule: UCHealth’s 16 year OpenNotes Journey (and a ukulele song)

Since the passage of the 21st Century Cures act and the INFORMATION BLOCKING rule, I’ve gotten a ton of questions about our experience with Open Notes and Open Results. AND A UKULELE SONG

patient20and20doc_2

Image courtesy of Healthcare Informatics

OCTOBER 2020 UPDATE. 

In this update:

  1. A ukulele song on Open Notes! What?! Read to the end…
  2. Our current interpretation of INFO BLOCKING rules and our current plans
  3. Links to important tip sheets that you can use/share

Since the passage of the 21st Century Cures act and the INFORMATION BLOCKING rule, I’ve gotten a ton of questions about our experience with Open Notes. Followers of this blog the Undiscovered Country will have heard this before. However, if you’re new here, welcome! I’m updating my original post from 2017. This now will include:

Important Links

  1. Link to my post on INFORMATION BLOCKING and the 1-page WHY plus 4-page HOW/WHAT that we are circulating at our Health System, affecting 6000 docs.
  2. Link to my post on HOW TO WRITE AN OPEN NOTE, with language suggestions.

UCHealth’s INFO BLOCKING settings

FYI, in regards to INFO BLOCKING, there are tons of nuanced decisions healthcare organizations are making, since the 1200 page rule still leaves some specifics quite vague, and the often-rumored FAQ that will clear up some of the vagueness is not here yet (less than 30 days until rule takes effect!). Here are our (interim) decisions at UCHealth:

  • All outpatient, emergency dept, urgent care provider progress notes will release immediately upon signature to the patient (already doing this)
  • All clinical notes associated with those visits (MA, RN, technologist) notes will also release immediately
  • All hospital progress notes will release to patients upon signature. This will include: H/P, daily progress notes, consult notes, operative reports, discharge summaries.
  • All medical student notes that are cosigned by physicians and used for billing will be immediately released. We are in discussions about the remainder of medical student notes that are NOT part of the legal medical record.
  • All resident and fellow notes will release immediate upon attending signature
  • All nursing and clinical notes that can be considered progress notes will release upon signature
  • NO psychotherapy notes will release to patient (they are not stored in our EHR)
  • NO notes that may be involved in legal, criminal or similar proceedings
  • NO notes that may ruin research randomization if revealed to patients
  • SOME of our psychiatry provider progress notes already release to our patients. Three of our 8 psychiatry clinics committed to Open Notes in 2017 and have had no issues. We are still working through this, in discussions to release more behavioral health progress notes (psychiatry, psychology, social work, case manager, others) to patients. There are some concerns about the possibility of risk to staff for patients reading some of these notes in real-time. Stay tuned!
  • All progress notes, inpatient and outpatient have a “DO NOT SHARE” button where providers can individually opt a note out of sharing with patient if it is deemed a risk. Our share rate is typically in the 90% range.
  • We already release all lab results immediately to patients, including sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis B and C, etc.
  • HIV is on a 7 day delay and will move to immediate
  • We already release all plain film radiology and ultrasounds immediatelly.
  • Complex radiology: CT/MRI/PET are moving to immediate
  • Pathology, Cytology is moving to immediate.
  • We plan to manually release a handful of genetic tests, including Huntington’s disease only AFTER discussion with the patient. The remainder are moving to immediate release.
  • We have over 850,000 patients on our patient portal, so these settings will affect a great many patients.

Our 16 year journey to Open Notes

Thanks to @RajivLeventhal of Healthcare Informatics for a nice write up of our Open Notes work at UCHealth. The journey to “overnight success” can sometimes take a decade or so. To paraphrase Machiavelli: “Nothing is so difficult as Change in a large organization, as your proponents are, at best, lukewarm, and your detractors have ALL THE PASSION IN THE WORLD.” I discuss some of my hard-won lessons in Change Management on the journey to OpenNotes.

Link to story (March 16, 2017):
UCHealth’s OpenNotes Journey: From a Few Docs to Enterprise-Wide Acceptance

Original Research in 2001

The original research on SPPARO (System Providing Patients Access to Records Online, conducted in 2001, 10 years before the official, and better-named Open Notes initiative) is still available:

Ross, Lin, et al. Providing a Web-based Online Medical Record with Electronic Communication Capabilities to Patients With Congestive Heart Failure: Randomized Trial. J Med Internet Res. 2004 Apr-Jun; 6(2): e12.

Earnest, Lin, et al. Use of a patient-accessible electronic medical record in a practice for congestive heart failure: patient and physician experiences. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2004 Sep-Oct;11(5):410-7. Epub 2004 Jun 7.

And … a song!

A ukulele song on Open Notes: Doc Prudence.

CMIO’s take? It has been a long time coming. Information Transparency for patients is the RIGHT THING to do. For myself, it was a 16 year journey from our first research studies, completed in 2001, until system-wide adoption of Open Notes for clinics, emergency depts and hospital discharge summaries in 2016. For others it is hitting them all at once here in 2020. It is a better place we are going to. In the meantime there is a lot of work and culture adjustment until we get there. Good luck to all of us.

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