Karin Sloan, M.D., a pulmonologist and Associate Medical Director of Ambulatory Care at South Shore Health, leads the Communication Liaison Provider program, which is focused on giving clinical updates to patients’ families and discussing goals-of-care with them when appropriate. The Patient and Family Connectors team, led by Susan Romano from the hospital’s Patient Experience Office, coordinates social video calls between patients and families. They also help troubleshoot technical issues with video calls for both teams.“Our team has seen a lot of sadness,” Sloan says. “These are powerful experiences. Our team members hold the iPad so families can say their goodbyes, with lots of tears shed. It’s been pretty amazing. It takes a certain type of person to be able to do this work.”Sloan’s team serves the communication needs of patients on the medical floor and intensive care units. They collaborate with hospitalists, intensivists, bedside nurses, and palliative care. The hospital’s social worker and chaplain also help, and two retired clinicians have joined the effort. One, a pulmonologist whom Sloan knew would add deep communication skills to the team because he retired from medicine to become a church deacon, also recruited a retired advance practice clinician to join the effort.
The re-assigned clinicians get orientation, training, and ongoing support. Sloan says, “We don’t just throw them in. In addition to training on donning and doffing PPE, logistics, and serious illness conversation skills, we have a daily half-hour meeting to provide a support network.” They work in groups of three on a three-days-on, four-days-off rotation. A variety of specialties are represented, including several PCPs, a radiologist, an emergency physician and surgical physician assistants.
After only six weeks, the approach is now seen as an indispensable way to involve patients’ loved ones in care, regardless of mobility or location, during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Sloan and Romano are just beginning to think about how to sustain this work as their colleagues begin to return to their pre-COVID specialties. Reflecting on the past few weeks, Romano says, “I feel like these people are now part of my department. I will be devastated when they go back to their real jobs!”
This article first appeared in COVID-19 Safety News Briefs, a digital newsletter of the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety,