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COVID-19 Patient Self-Screener Tool Helps Keep Staff and Patients Safe

Posted August 27, 2020 | Written by Michael Keating


A new patient screening tool developed at Johns Hopkins is helping staff and patients stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Developed by the Johns Hopkins Technology Innovation Center (TIC) and the Epic Support Team, the Patient Self-Screener allows patients to confirm whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms before arriving for appointments and procedures.

While Johns Hopkins has been screening patients and visitors at entry points throughout the pandemic, the impetus to create the Patient Self-Screener tool occurred on May 6 when Gov. Larry Hogan announced that ambulatory clinics could reopen to nonurgent care, but required patients be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before or at arrival.

“We all recognize the challenge of the volume of patients who come to our facilities, and having to stop and ask all of them questions at the doors was going to be cumbersome as we tried to return back to some of our normal volumes,” says Manisha Loss, medical director of ambulatory services for The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

To prevent bottlenecks and limit interactions that could potentially expose staff to a patient with COVID-19 symptoms, Loss reached out to colleagues at the TIC for help. Two weeks later they provided a prototype.

Safety for Both Patients and Staff

Medical staff use the tool to send a text message to patients 24 hours in advance of scheduled appointments or procedures. The text prompts patients to answer a series of questions in either English or Spanish about COVID-19 symptoms and possible exposure. Depending on their responses, patients receive a green or red digital badge. A green badge means they are approved to proceed. They save and show the badge at the security entrance and the clinic check-in desk. If the badge is red, the patient is prompted to call the office for further review and instructions, including possible rescheduling in person or through a telehealth video visit.

Recognizing that many patients want or need to come to their appointments with a friend, family member or caregiver, Loss and the team developed a way for them to securely forward the self-screener text message to their care partners. Although most visitors are currently restricted due to COVID-19 precautions, those who meet the Johns Hopkins Medicine visitor guidelines can use the tool to complete the same self-checking questions and receive a green or red badge.

The next phase of the tool’s development will allow patients coming for imaging studies, lab draws and pharmacy pickups to use the self-screener by scanning a QR code upon arrival. Snapping a picture of the QR code launches the Patient Self-Screener tool, allowing them to answer questions and, if cleared, receive an electronic green badge.

“If they receive a red badge, they can then call for further screening to limit potential exposure,” says Loss.

Melissa Helicke, chief operating officer for Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, says the tool streamlines a complicated and time-consuming process. “Clinicians can see in Epic that patients have self-screened before their arrival,” she says. “The screening badge system along with PPE, mandatory masking, physical distancing and changes to workflows are all tools that we’re using to help improve and ensure safety for both patients and staff.”

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