Providence Healthcare
Providence Healthcare

Automated mass calling project team members gather in the Houses of Providence. Clockwise from top left: Pat Colucci, Aurora Wilson, Shiva Nadarajan, Jube Walker and Maggie Brunneau. (Photo by James Wysotski)

Getting the word out

Leveraging technology to improve outbreak notifications

By Emily Dawson

Keeping people safe is at the heart of everything we do at Unity Health Toronto, including efforts to minimize the impact and spread of outbreaks through awareness. This is important across all programs, including Providence Healthcare’s Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence (Houses) long-term care home, where 288 residents live in a close-knit, active community.

Historically, once Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) declared an outbreak on a unit in the Houses, staff and volunteers would manually call families to inform them of the outbreak details.

During an outbreak, Providence notifies families for several reasons: to keep other residents and visitors safe by minimizing the spread of infection; to maintain organizational transparency; and to help people make informed decisions for visiting.

“When evaluating the efficacy of manual calls, we noted a few barriers to providing consistent, accurate and timely notifications,” said Aurora Wilson, Providence’s manager of IPAC.

“The process was time-consuming and took clinicians away from care during critical moments in an outbreak. We also found the communications were inconsistent, as we would have clinical and non-clinical staff - and sometimes volunteers - making these calls. The call process added to stress and frustration amidst an outbreak.”

... We noted a few barriers to providing consistent, accurate and timely notifications.” - Aurora Wilson, Providence’s manager of IPAC

Wilson knew there was a better way. Providence had recently contracted a vendor to provide automated post-discharge calling to all patients leaving its Hospital, and Wilson jumped on the opportunity to harness the same technology for outbreak notifications.

Now, when an outbreak is declared, the system allows IPAC staff to select the affected unit and it then uploads the contacts to an external carrier’s portal, and initiates the automated calling. If the call is answered or goes to voicemail, families hear a standardized script with the outbreak details. The system is programmed to repeat the call when there is no answer.

After a respiratory outbreak in December 2018 affecting two units in the home, the system generated 64 calls, of which 78 per cent were answered (live or voicemail), 15 per cent went unanswered or reached a busy line, and seven per cent had invalid numbers.

“A robust report is immediately available after the automated call,” added Wilson. “It tracks the number of people reached, whether it was live or voicemail, out-of-service numbers, no answer or busy lines – all at the click of a button.”