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SPP Professor Helps U.S. Hospitals Reduce Spread of COVID-19

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Ambulance Blur. Photo by Camilo Jimenez, Unsplash
Ambulance outside of busy hospital

Before most U.S. universities decided to close for the second half of the 2020 spring semester due to COVID-19, Associate Professor Toby Egan in the School of Public Policy and the Robert H. Smith School of Business, anticipated that expanding breakouts of COVID-19 in Europe and Asia would soon put the U.S. in a difficult situation. “I asked a simple question, ‘how can I use my management and research expertise to lean into this coming challenge?’.” The answer came through the development of a collaborative ‘research-to-practice’ (R2P) team comprised of medical doctors, healthcare consultants and university researchers. 

The R2P team initially worked with 18 hospitals to design, develop and broadly disseminate a unique approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. 

“As the point of care U.S.-wide, hospitals are where COVID-19 is most concentrated,” Egan said. “Because this virus is novel and, due to limited resources in the U.S. compared to a number of other countries, a unique approach was needed for U.S. hospitals and clinics. Our team started with evidence-based research from earlier outbreaks like Ebola and MERS, customized our approach in an initial 18 hospitals, and published our evidence-based process and results in less than five months.”

Amidst much uncertainty about the COVID-19 disease and informed by available research, the R2P team gathered with administrators, physicians and building operations professionals in 18 hospitals to develop a unique prevention system. The ‘patient care pathways’ approach meant each hospital created defined zones—gray, yellow or red—for every floor and even outdoors. The zones represented escalating prevention practices and increasing levels of protection for patients and healthcare workers (e.g. PPE, testing, zero pressure rooms). 

After establishing the R2P team’s unique hospital-based approach, an informative website was set-up and online seminars were provided and disseminated to over 100 hospitals and healthcare systems. After three months, it was determined the hospitals implementing the R2P team’s approach had only a 1% transmission of COVID-19 as compared to 3%-to-29% U.S.-wide. These results were recently published in the Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection and are available on the National Institutes of Health website.

Since establishing and publishing the ‘COVID-19 patient care pathways’ approach in the U.S. context, Egan has begun launching comparative international research focusing on hospital COVID-19 mitigation in South Korea and Taiwan—two countries with the lowest levels of virus spread and the lowest COVID-19 related death rates. Upcoming research efforts will focus on management and policy best practices. 

“Ultimately, it was our team’s desire to make a positive research-to-practice difference in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., said Egan. Our next effort is to detail the best, evidence-based approaches undertaken in other countries and elaborate on how research-to-practice in public policy and management can make a meaningful impact, protect citizens and save lives.”

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