How to streamline family communication about infections

Posted by Susan C. Hull on Sep 17, 2020 9:15:00 AM
Susan C. Hull
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Long-term care (LTC) administrative and clinical leaders face multiple challenges to provide accurate and consistent information about infections in the community.

As we move into the start of the flu season and continued coronavirus pandemic, communication needs for residents, families, and care teams are heightened, compounded, and complex. Options to streamline family communication are needed.


With the co-circulation of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, effective communication practices are essential to support the protection and containment of the infection and reduction of its spread. The testing of residents and staff, the assurance of adequate isolation practices, modifications to visitation policies, and provision of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) each require effective communication efforts.

“It is not possible to predict influenza activity or the severity of the upcoming influenza season in the United States with the potential for co-circulation of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2.

While vaccination remains the best way to prevent influenza, antiviral medications are an essential adjunct to vaccination—especially for treating outpatients with suspected or confirmed influenza, in persons at high risk for influenza complications, in those with progressive disease, and hospitalized influenza patients.

In order to communicate effectively for the 2020-2021 season, LTC leaders following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, need education resources that describe:

  1. Influenza activity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
  2. Influenza testing guidance for patients with acute respiratory illness including during community co-circulation of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2
  3. Antiviral treatment recommendations for patients with suspected or confirmed influenza including during community co-circulation of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2

Residents in LTC facilities make multiple and frequent care transitions. These include more frequent bed transfers, or movements in and out of the facility, or to other facilities to accommodate isolation requirements or to escalate level of care. Each of these transitions bring added risk for infection and spread. Sharing this care transition data with resident’s family is part of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) reporting requirement to report COVID-19 data to residents, their representatives, and families of residents in facilities.  

CDC has also advised hospitals to isolate COVID-19 patients to limit staff exposure and help conserve PPE that has been in short supply. As family members follow where their resident receives care, they want to understand what exposure or potential of exposure their resident has had to other patients or staff who have COVID-19 and other infections.

Families want assurance that their loved one has not experienced co mingling with other patients or staff who have COVID-19. This situation is further complicated by delays inherent in testing and results reporting, false negative test results.

Families also want to know that the LTC facility has an adequate supply of PPE, to protect staff, patients and visitors, when allowed. A new national database containing 98% of U.S. nursing homes find that more than 1 in 5 nursing homes report a severe shortage of PPE and also a shortage of staff. Rates of both staff and PPE shortages did not meaningfully improve from May to July of 2020.

LTC leaders are seeking a digital and secure communication tool which is easy to implement and meets the infection and pandemic-related regulatory requirements. Residents, families and staff teams need a smart, single and integrated approach to shared communication for timely, consistent and real-time updates.

The optimum way to do this is to implement an “always on” patient-centric secure and interoperable communication platform with broadcast messaging to:

  • Accurately and consistently communicate about the status of infections to residents, families, and care teams.
  • Ensure timely communication about influenza and COVID-19 testing, tracing, results, and treatment options to protect residents, family and care team safety.
  • Supplement communication during outbreaks or super-spreader events.
  • Ensure safe care transitions when a resident is moving between care facilities.
  • Build relationships by assuring resident safety and peace of mind for family members.
  • Fulfill regulatory requirements, including the occurrence of Covid-19 cases.
  • Meet and assure privacy and security standards.

LTC facilities need be able to send broadcast messages to all residents and families, including information, forms, satisfaction surveys and updates about COVID-19 or other infectious outbreaks. Having one streamlined message disseminated to all parties gives the facility an audit trail of who reads the message or responds to the message, enabling the facility to respond to common questions quickly. Broadcast messages enable LTC facilities to share consistent and accurate information to all residents and families, to answer specific questions about infection preparation and response, provide updates about visitation and family related issues, and easily share actions taken to keep loved ones safe.

Combining message types also streamlines communication and workflow efficiencies and contributes to patient and family satisfaction. For example, during an outbreak of an infectious disease, a personalized message about a resident should be sent to the family, care team and primary care provider (PCP) to report virus testing or contact tracing results. The facility should also be able to send a general broadcast message to every resident, family, and care team about virus conditions, updates and procedures in the facility.

In Summary, care and communication experiences for the LTC resident, families and care teams can be different. The “always on” secure digital communication platform and approach assures and protects resident health, well-being and safety with a shared communication stream.

During these times, with the co-circulation of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2, these communication practices bring peace of mind to everyone supporting the resident in the center. 

Learn more about how CareLoop helps to streamline family communication about infections in LTC facilities. Read our Free eBook, How to Streamline Long Term Care Communication During a Pandemic.

long term care communication during a pandemic or infectious disease event

Topics: Family Communication

Susan C. Hull

Written by Susan C. Hull

Susan is a nurse executive, entrepreneur and informaticist passionate about transforming health and care through co-production. Board certified in nursing informatics and advanced nursing executive, her experience spans diverse roles including designing and managing a new children’s hospital emergency service, nursing and health system executive, healthy community partnership and community health information network (CHIN) executive, chief nursing and health informatics officer, consultant and researcher. Her leadership experience builds on participation in the start of the healthy community, population health and learning health system movements.

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