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New Program Helps Family Members of COVID-19 Patients Stay Informed

May 05, 2020
by Jane E. Dee

Yale radiologists have stepped up to help frontline clinicians who are caring for COVID-19 patients by making phone calls to the patients’ families. The radiologists are serving as a crucial link between patients and their family members, who can’t be at their loved ones' bedsides due to reduced hospital visitation policies.

Yale New Haven Health (YNHH) launched the Family Connect program on April 21, matching radiologists with medical teams caring for COVID-19 patients. Rob Goodman, MD, chief of radiology & biomedical imaging at Yale School of Medicine (YSM) and radiologist-in-chief at YNHH, learned about the program, which originated at New York University Langone Health, and proposed bringing it to Yale. Brittany Branson, MD, assistant professor of radiology & biomedical imaging at YSM, and senior medical director of patient experience for YNHH, helped to launch Yale’s effort.

With a reduction in elective procedures, such as mammograms, radiologists have had the flexibility to take on this volunteer role, Dr. Branson said. “Radiologists have a reputation for not being patient-facing, but for many of us, that couldn't be further from the truth,” Dr. Branson said. “A lot of us do procedures and discuss exams with patients and families as part of our daily work as radiologists. Family Connect is a way to repurpose those skills to help patients, families and our colleagues.”

The radiologists who have volunteered for the program are Reni Butler, MD, Michele Johnson, MD, Simon Onderi, MD, Liane Philpotts, MD, Laura Sheiman, MD, as well as trainees Varun Chowdhary, MD, Anish Gonchigar, MD, and Rajiv Raju, MD. Each day, they review patients’ medical histories with primary physicians by phone. After receiving this daily update, they call the families. “Our doctors also relay questions and messages from families back to the primary teams and patients,” Dr. Branson said. The radiologists are assisting patients at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Saint Raphael Campus, and Bridgeport Hospital.

“By using physicians who were not at the bedside and had reduced services because of the reduction in elective procedures, it allowed the bedside physicians additional time to focus on direct care knowing the families would receive a daily morning update and they could call if there were any material changes or updates,” said Joan Kelly, chief experience officer at YNHH. Family Connect also is being used at Johns Hopkins and Northwell Health, and is planned for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Kelly said.

Other Yale project members include Alan Friedman, MD, professor of pediatrics (cardiology) at YSM and YNHH’s chief medical experience officer; Anne Wilkinson, youth program coordinator for volunteer services; Irma Dadic, patient and family engagement coordinator; and Devin Giguere, a volunteer program coordinator. Auguste Fortin VI, MD, professor of medicine at YSM and Michael Bennick, MD, helped to train 48 Family Connect volunteers from various departments throughout the medical school.

“The program is turning out to be very beneficial,” said Peter Ouellette, APRN and a medicine specialist at YNHH. “We still have the option to call families directly, but now the workflow is a little lighter for us, which is very helpful,” said Ouellette, who is working on a COVID-19 ward at Saint Raphael’s.

Dr. Philpotts, a professor of radiology & biomedical imaging and a breast imager, said the community’s appreciation of health care workers comes through in the phone calls she makes to family members.

“This is something that everyone is so thankful for because they know these people on the front line are putting themselves at risk,” Dr. Philpotts said.

When she needs to pass on information from a family member to a nurse, she calls the ward directly, which cuts down on the number of incoming calls. Some of the messages she passes along include requests to place a patient’s phone by their bed so they will hear it when it rings, or what TV shows a patient likes to watch.

“I miss my patients in breast imaging,” Dr. Philpotts said. “But now we have an emotional bond with these family members as well.”

Submitted by Angel Machon on May 05, 2020