Allocating protective personal equipment (PPE) to staff has been an ongoing difficulty for hospice providers as they contend with dwindling supplies and increased costs as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Emerging technologies such as heat mapping are showing promise in helping hospices to identify geographic areas hardest hit by the novel coronavirus and in the greatest need of protection.
Accessing PPE has proven to be among the most significant challenges for hospices during the pandemic. Providers have struggled to protect patients and staff in areas of greatest vulnerability amid product shortages and gauged prices. Some hospices have engaged heat map technology to help focus their procurement efforts as competition for PPE became fierce in an already crowded home hospice care market.
“We needed a way to review the virus outbreak in relation to where our locations are, where our staff live and work, and where our patients are,” said Christy Jeffcoat, vice president of Medical Services America (MSA), a home health and hospice agency. “Our hospice agencies needed a way to proactively operationalize our book of business in this pandemic. The company needed a way to predict COVID-19 outbreaks and to allocate resources more appropriately. We discussed this idea with WellSky, and they went to work to create a valuable tool.”
With input from MSA, the health care technology company WellSky partnered with Qlik, a data integration and analytics firm, to develop a heat map technology tool that tracks current outbreak hot spots and anticipates locations with increasing coronavirus infection rates. The WellSky-Qlik COVID-19 heat map was launched late in April as a feature designed to apply data to improve PPE supply chain management and keep staff safe in the field, particularly those serving patients in the home.
“We combined [with Qlik] to build something that would help us predict, based on their data and our data, where the next big outbreak may occur, where the next hot spots of infection might start rearing up to figure out how we can mobilize and get PPE to those geographies faster than we might to others,” said Bill Miller, CEO of WellSky. “PPE is hard to get your hands on these days, very hard, and we’re all trying to get it into the settings that need it the most. That’s how the COVID-19 tracker came to life.”
As Miller told Hospice News, the tracker uses data received from health care agencies, including hospices, to highlight outbreak locations via ZIP codes and reflect increases of COVID-19 cases in those areas. Data algorithms and predictive analytics identify geographical areas that are likely to be impacted, creating a heat map showing dark blue or dark red areas to indicate the highest concentration of infections.
“It’s not just the coronavirus cases data, but we’re also looking at population data from the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)],” said Julie Kae, executive director of Qlik.org and global head of corporate responsibility at Qlik. “We look at where our aging population is and where the hot spots are going to be. We’re looking at socioeconomic data and health data from the CDC of where the highest number of individuals are located who are most susceptible and vulnerable to this particular outbreak. We bring all that together and then we have this very powerful way to visualize that data.”
MSA has seen a positive impact on its operations and PPE allocation processes since implementing the technology.
“The heat map has allowed us to review fast-growing positive COVID-19 cases by geographic regions and compare it to our location/employees,” said Jeffcoat. “We now are able to evaluate needs for PPE and route tests to those areas first. Predictive data has allowed us to adjust operations, such as staffing patterns, notifications to areas of focus and referral needs/accommodations. This technology saved us valuable time and afforded us to be able to provide appropriate PPE quickly to our staff.”
While developed in response to the pandemic’s peak, the heat map technology has potential lasting effects after its height passes. Knowing the geography of vulnerable patient populations may also come into play for hospices as they look ahead.
Demographic tailwinds have driven growth in the care-at-home sector, as has greater public awareness and acceptance of hospice care. As demand for their services went up, providers are seeking ways to accurately predict potential growth areas throughout their service regions.
“These data models that we’ve built can be pointed at a problem like the coronavirus outbreak,” said Miller. “But could they be pointed at helping us identify someone who is exhibiting the precursors to needing hospice care? How much benefit would that be for them and their family and the overall health system if we were able to see that earlier in the data layer? The answer is yes, heat map technology is applicable there. It’s one of the reasons why we’re able to build analytics for almost anything.”