Becoming agile during a pandemic

When COVID-19 cases started spreading throughout the U.S., there were worries among health care systems on whether they’d have enough beds to keep up with demand. That led OSF Innovation to think preemptively about ideas to prevent patient overflow, reduce cases of the virus and safely treat individuals at home.

One concept that came from Mission Partners participating in a Trailblazer Challenge, an innovation competition, would help OSF HealthCare treat both COVID-19 patients and non-COVID hospital patients at home. But with the infectious nature of the virus, this idea had to be implemented fast.

With years of Performance Improvement (PI) experience built into the organization, the Trailblazer team opted to use an agile approach to project management to help get their idea off the ground quickly.

“We already knew how to project plan, facilitate, problem-solve and bring people together in order to carry out change within the Ministry,” said Kelly George, vice president of PI. “This foundation helped the team pivot to be quicker in responding to the needs of people diagnosed with COVID-19.”

In less than a month, the team built the OSF Digital Hospital at Home and Acute COVID@Home programs to treat people using video conferencing and other technology.

What does it mean to be agile?

Quite simply, being agile means having the ability to move from the planning to execution of a project as quickly as possible, gaining feedback from leaders throughout the process.

It took a multidisciplinary team of five working collaboratively to launch the programs. The group included two doctors, an IT expert, an OSF Innovation Mission Partner and a home care leader. Working in the same space, the team met daily and stayed focused on the objective, possible solutions and deliverables.

“There was a common sense of vision and desired outcomes between our team and the leaders we reported to,” said Nathan Pritzker, strategic program manager for OSF Innovation. “With that, we quickly mapped out our project, divided tasks that were unique to our expertise and stayed in constant communication.”

The group had steady access to digital health experts who have introduced similar types of projects across the health system. With varying levels of experience, everyone’s voice on the team was equal.

“Each member openly brought forth their unique talents and knowledge,” said Ellen Chaney, an innovation coordinator with IT. “The willingness to work together with respect for one another made our team resilient.”

The team also had ready access to leaders for feedback and approvals.

“Quick exposure to clinical and non-clinical leadership allowed us to continually improve pieces of our concept,” said Dr. Jay Mathur, a hospitalist with OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center. “That access kept our project moving and ensured we could help patients as fast as possible.”

The benefit of being agile

Using an agile approach, the Acute COVID@Home and OSF Digital Hospital at Home programs launched in the span of three weeks. As a result, hundreds of individuals have been cared for from the comfort of their homes through these programs.

A number of other teams with PI support also used this method to quickly bring projects to fruition as part of the COVID-19 response. PI intends to use this approach for future projects as well.

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