Case Study

How One Hospital Optimised Their EMR to Manage the Covid-19 Pandemic

5 Minute Read


While some health care organisations are investing in new technologies to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, University of California San Diego Health (UCSDH) improved a tool it already had in its toolbox: the EMR. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, UCSDH leveraged and enhanced its existing EMR infrastructure to rapidly deploy standard processes, enable data-driven decision-making, and most importantly, support front-line clinicians.


The five imperative EMR enhancements UCSDH implemented

These are the five imperative updates UCSDH made to manage the outbreak.

  • Enhancement

    Established standardised, multimodal screening and triage processes

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  • Enhancement

    Leveraged EMR-integrated secure messaging to quickly share updates with staff

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  • Enhancement

    Automated lab orders to streamline the testing process

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  • Enhancement

    Created a reporting dashboard to drive data-driven decision-making

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  • Enhancement

    Expanded use of an existing telemedicine platform in the EMR patient portal

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Three factors that enabled UCSDH’s success

Established an interdisciplinary command centre to identify needs, including an IT leader

"Every hospital probably has a command centre open right now, but not every hospital has an IT leader in the command centre. That partnership is the key to success," said Chris Longhurst, a physician who serves as CIO and Associate CMO of Quality at UCSDH.

UCSDH established a 24-hour Incident Command Centre to monitor the rapidly-evolving situation and recommendations. The command centre team included infectious disease experts, administrative executives, clinical informaticists, and IT leaders. Having an IT leader in the room helped the team translate operational needs into technical requirements.

Closely collaborated across clinical and operational leaders

UCSDH was able to pivot quickly to Covid-19 because of the team-oriented nature of their leadership. Longhurst serves in a dual-capacity role, which also helped facilitate communication. "It puts me at the juncture of a lot of medical, technology, and operational conversations," he noted.

This close collaboration helps the IT teams to prioritise projects that were valuable for clinicians and frontline staff. EMR updates were added to automate processes and reduce confusion, to keep staff informed on changing guidance, and to provide easy-to-consume real-time data for decision-making.

Used an agile method to implement new tools quickly

For most other projects, the IT team spends time scoping requirements and developing and testing solutions before rolling out changes. UCSDH had to modify this process to implement updates quickly. New features were constructed to enable quick back-end editing as processes and guidance change frequently.

UCSDH already had a robust system of daily huddles in place prior to Covid-19, but this process was strengthened to enable a lean approach. The organisationalso made the decision to deprioritise all other IT projects to support its Covid-19 efforts.

Longhurst believes that IT will play a critical role in continuing to support innovation: "The world has clearly changed, and health IT teams are enabling transformation. For example, telemedicine changed because of the willingness of patients and doctors and the shifting reimbursement landscape, but we were prepared with the infrastructure."

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