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Amid a Building Crisis, Could Clinical Decision Support Tools Make a Difference in Managing the Ebola Outbreak?

October 17, 2014
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As developments move forward rapidly in the growing Ebola crisis in the U.S., could the leveraging of strong clinical decision support tools make a difference in patient care organizations?

On Friday, Oct. 17, as this blog was being composed, events in the Ebola situation in the U.S. were developing rapidly. Among them:

  • The White House announced Friday morning that President Barack Obama had asked Ron Klain, who had served as chief of staff to both Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Al Gore, to be his Ebola response coordinator, in the wake of recent developments. “He will report directly to the president’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, and the President’s national security adviser, Susan Rice as he ensures that efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa,” a White House official wrote in an e-mail, as reported by the Washington Post. Leaders in Congress had been calling on President Obama to appoint a so-called “Ebola czar.”
  • On Thursday evening, Daniel Varga, M.D., the chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources integrated health system, apologized publicly for the problems in the management of care delivery procedures related to the care of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to die of Ebola on U.S. soil, while he was being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. “Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr., Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes,” Dr. Varga said, in a statement delivered to a congressional hearing. “We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry.” Here is a link to Dr. Varga’s full testimony.
  • Texas Health Resources has also created a microsite to address Ebola concerns. Here is the link to that microsite.
  • Meanwhile, in Ohio, public health officials announced that they were increasing the state’s supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare providers in case such gear is needed for a suspected or confirmed case of Ebola. The announcement came in the wake of revelations that Amber Vinson, one of the nurses who had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, had been confirmed as having Ebola after she had flown to Cleveland to participate in bridal gown fittings for her upcoming wedding. Symptomatic, she flew back from Cleveland to Dallas, and was later transferred to Emory University Hospital, where she is now being cared for.
  • Governor Rick Perry of Texas announced that Texas health officials were actively monitoring eight individuals who had been in close contact with Amber Vinson.
  • Describing the condition of nurse Nina Pham, the first nurse who had treated Mr. Duncan and who had subsequently been diagnosed with Ebola, Anthony Fauci, M.D., in a press conference outside the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., told reporters  Friday morning that, “At 11:54, Nina Pham, the 26-year-old nurse was transferred to the National Institutes of Health to be admitted to our special Clinical Studies Unit. She is here with us. Her condition is fair, she is stable, resting comfortably. In this unit, we have a grop of highly skilled physicians, nurses, and technicians. I'd particularly like to point out the extraordinary skill and training of the physicians and nurses taking care of her.” Dr. Fauci predicted that Pham would recover.

Meanwhile, amid swirling concern that was in some quarters approaching panic, one detailed element of the whole situation was evolving forward, albeit not much noticed by the mainstream media.

As HCI Senior Editor Gabriel Perna reported in an article on this website on Oct. 16, “Representatives from both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) co-hosted a special webinar this week on the use of clinical decision support tools in the electronic medical record to screen potential Ebola patients.”

As Perna reported, “The idea, according to CDC’s deputy lead of the Ebola Medical Care Task Force, Dana Meaney Delman, M.D., was to explore ways in which the EMR could prompt healthcare professionals to identify those at risk for Ebola in a timely manner.”