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Safaeinili N, Vilendrer S, Williamson E, Zhao Z, Brown-Johnson C, Asch SM, Shieh L. Inpatient Telemedicine Implementation as an Infection Control Response to COVID-19: Qualitative Process Evaluation Study. JMIR formative research. 2021 Jun 16; 5(6):e26452.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges to delivering safe and effective health care while minimizing virus exposure among staff and patients without COVID-19. Health systems worldwide have moved quickly to implement telemedicine in diverse settings to reduce infection, but little is understood about how best to connect patients who are acutely ill with nearby clinical team members, even in the next room. OBJECTIVE: To inform these efforts, this paper aims to provide an early example of inpatient telemedicine implementation and its perceived acceptability and effectiveness. METHODS: Using purposive sampling, this study conducted 15 semistructured interviews with nurses (5/15, 33%), attending physicians (5/15, 33%), and resident physicians (5/15, 33%) on a single COVID-19 unit within Stanford Health Care to evaluate implementation outcomes and perceived effectiveness of inpatient telemedicine. Semistructured interview protocols and qualitative analysis were framed around the RE-AIM (reach, effectiveness, adoption, implementation, and maintenance) framework, and key themes were identified using a rapid analytic process and consensus approach. RESULTS: All clinical team members reported wide reach of inpatient telemedicine, with some use for almost all patients with COVID-19. Inpatient telemedicine was perceived to be effective in reducing COVID-19 exposure and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) without significantly compromising quality of care. Physician workflows remained relatively stable, as most standard clinical activities were conducted via telemedicine following the initial intake examination, though resident physicians reported reduced educational opportunities given limited opportunities to conduct physical exams. Nurse workflows required significant adaptations to cover nonnursing duties, such as food delivery and facilitating technology connections for patients and physicians alike. Perceived patient impact included consistent care quality, with some considerations around privacy. Reported challenges included patient-clinical team communication and personal connection with the patient, perceptions of patient isolation, ongoing technical challenges, and certain aspects of the physical exam. CONCLUSIONS: Clinical team members reported inpatient telemedicine encounters to be acceptable and effective in reducing COVID-19 exposure and PPE use. Nurses adapted their workflows more than physicians in order to implement the new technology and bore a higher burden of in-person care and technical support. Recommendations for improved inpatient telemedicine use include information technology support and training, increased technical functionality, and remote access for the clinical team.