This four week long project focused on solutions to more effectively manage future pandemic situations. Research indicated that in all the major international pandemic events over the past few decades, the fear of the pandemic often outweighs the actual risk of infection.
Our solution is a self-checking and tracking feature inside existing hospital patient portal applications which will let people know what their risk level of being infected is and let medical institutions share credible information regarding recommendations and preventative measures to take. This information will help alleviate unnecessary panic as everyone will be able to monitor their risk level throughout the outbreak by just opening up the application.
In 2014, four confirmed cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the United States—two of which were contracted inside our own country. In response, hospitals all over the country began setting their own guidelines, procedures, and protocols to prepare for combating and containing this virus if it were to walk through their doors. After a couple months of mass media coverage and population fear, the virus was said to have been successfully contained and the United States was declared “Ebola free.”
In the aftermath of this situation, healthcare professionals were able to see several areas within our system which would have been the source for many problems if the epidemic had become worse. Fixing some of these problem spaces would be extremely beneficial in case of a future epidemic situations, and could also better the entire healthcare industry.
How can we more effectively manage future pandemic situations?
Subject Matter Expert
We began our research by talking with Philip Green M.D., a Lead Physician who is also on the Ebola Response Team at St. Mary’s Hospital in Walla Walla, Washington — a rural city in eastern Washington. He provided us with an overview of the healthcare system of Walla Walla and current infrastructure protocols and procedures in case of an epidemic.
He then focused mostly on Ebola and the current response infrastructure from both the CDC and each individual hospital and clinic. From the scenarios he described from the Ebola outbreak in fall of 2014, he formulated a series of problem spaces and pain points that occurred for patients, families, and the hospital staff. I organized these problems into the following themes: communication, containment, and education.
- Keep the patient in the hospital in contact with family at home
- Keep family members in contact with the care team
- Keep hospitals aware of any changes in Center of Disease Control’s recommendations
- Keep population informed
- Keep hospital staff informed about epidemic level patients
- Keep people who are not sick from being in an environment where they are likely to be infected
- Figure out who has been in contact with index case
- Improve voluntary quarantine protocols to better enforce
- Tracking and locating high risk patients in community
- Improve process for training staff
Experience mapping was used to reveal insights regarding the hospital experiences of patients, to identify touch points at each stage of the experience, and to focus on what the patient’s needs, thoughts, and feelings are and in what areas is there opportunities for improvement.
Popular Media Scan
I went back to find information regarding how Ebola was portrayed in 2014 to find trends and get an idea of what was on people's minds during the outbreak. The first theme I noticed was that the media was showing Ebola in America in a manner that was quite disproportionate to the actual threat to public health. Additionally, it often included reports of suspicions and exaggerated claims which only increased the spread of misinformation and rumors on social media and from non-professionals, which only increased the fear and anxiety among the public.
“ The reality is that in America ... the risk is still quite low. Caution is important, obviously [but] the real issue is a different one: Our fear of Ebola has become many times worse than the problem."
People are likely to be anxious and overly cautious during pandemic situations
The key finding from our experience map and popular media scan surfaced a key critical path of what can occur during a pandemic outbreak: when a person begins to feel any type of symptoms, they want to get immediate medical assistance and assurance.
NEGATIVE PATH : In one path, everyone may flock to the hospital, even if they are not actually infected. The problem here is that if someone else is infected, there is now the risk that that person may infect everyone else in the waiting area; which actually worsens the overall situation.
POSITIVE PATH : Instead, individuals can decide to use existing nurse hotlines or e-visits to be examined in their own homes to avoid entering a situation where they may become infected. If the doctor/nurse believes they may be at risk, only then they would be asked to come to the hospital.
Our ideation process began with an individual self sketch phase that led to our group brainstorming phases where we shared our individual ideas, analyzed them, and grouped them by different themes. These ideas were then evaluated, narrowed down, and consolidated to a single idea over the course of four stages.
To the right is one of the concept matrices created to help evaluate our ideas. This matrix identifies who and when each idea affects in the pandemic scenario.
Another concept matrix created which evaluates our ideas using important aspects.
SOLUTIONOur solution is a self-checking and tracking feature inside existing hospital patient portal applications.
The main goals of this application are to:
- Let people know what their risk level of being infected is (and if it changes by being in proximity with the disease).
- Share credible information regarding recommendations and preventative measures to take.
This information will help alleviate unnecessary panic as everyone will be able to monitor their risk level throughout the outbreak by just opening up the application.
Since this is embedded inside the healthcare application the risk level analysis can access all existing health record information in case certain aspects will factor in to ones risk level (i.e. if a person has an H1N1 flu vaccination, it is unlikely they will have been infected with H1N1). This system also allows for the information entered by the user to flow back to the hospital for tracking and monitoring purposes.
A major benefit of this solution is that it is extremely adaptable, and each part of it can be customized to accommodate any infectious disease.
The workflow of the application (discussed above) requires these basic features :
- Displaying credible information about the pandemic situation
- Using GPS tracking, embedded questions, and medical record information to assess personal risk
- Displaying risk classification and sharing relevant instructions and information
- Entering daily check-ins to alert hospital staff of any changes to one's health