Features

Chris Diguette – VNA Care Network & Hospice

What happens when medical care goes home

The COVID-19 pandemic forced an exodus from the traditional office space into homes. Some workers, however, didn’t have to adapt to new workplaces. They’d always worked at home—the homes of patients, that is.

With nearly 31,000 patients, the VNA Care Network & Hospice employees over 550 clinicians—nurses, social workers, as well as physical and occupational therapists. In normal times, these workers provide in-home care, especially those who are elderly.

Chris Diguette | Chief Information Officer | VNA Care Network & Hospice

Chris Diguette | Chief Information Officer | VNA Care Network & Hospice

However, these times have been far from normal. As Chris Diguette explains, VNA Care had to quickly evolve how it delivered health care services. Because most patients were at high-risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, home visits were no longer an option except for essential situations, like changing wound dressings or IVs.

As CIO, Diguette, helped implement and offer telehealth options like secure video calling platforms. A physical therapist, for instance, could now guide a patient through a hip replacement recovery session through a screen, reducing health risks for both involved.

“With the pandemic inducing uncertainty and rapidly increasing patient volume, we leapt towards technology,” Diguette says. “Introducing video calls and cloud-based data storage, for instance, enabled our workforce to become efficiently remote as we continued moving towards a breakthrough year.”

Keyboards can move mountains

Helping matters, 70 percent of VNA staff—its clinicians—were already mobile, well before the first reports of COVID-19 hit the news. According to Diguette, only the administrative, IT and human resources staff were in physical office buildings for any significant amount of time.

“We accelerated the mobility of that remaining 30 percent,” Diguette says.

To do this, VNA invested in new equipment, including laptops and internet-enabled phones. It also installed Microsoft Teams across devices and upgraded the equipment used by clinicians, switching to telemedicine tablets that used a platform made by Health Recovery Solutions, an FDA approved enhancement.

Chris Diguette | Chief Information Officer | VNA Care Network & Hospice

Using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or LTE connectivity, the app allows the tablets to quickly sync with medical equipment during a house visit. The clinician can then check the patient’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse and other readouts, like current medications, instead of gathering the information from each individual device—like a thermometer or pulse-oxygen reader.

Clinicians don’t need to enter the information into their tablet, either. The app stores the data and sends it to the medical record platform. Clinicians can also update information in real time, as well, like how a patient responded to new therapy, medicine or their healing process—and access it from anywhere, such as at home for a telehealth appointment.

“Boston is known for being a commuting nightmare,” he laughs, “so it’s no wonder that telehealth has helped our clinicians significantly increase the number of patients they see daily in-home or virtually, depending on the patients’ needs and circumstances.”

The new equipment has an enhanced version of the digital security that many of us use to protect our personal devices, as well. Diguette is also blocking downloads, e-mail, any sort of phishing, and restricting visitation to certain sites.

“As instances of ransomware and malware escalate, we educate our clinicians—even patients—on proper equipment use,” Diguette says. “Our IT department does everything to ensure our end points are secured and sensitive data remains very much under lock and key.”

Millions of lines of code

Despite the COVID-related drive for technology, Diguette says VNA had recognized the need for these upgrades years prior. In fact, he was hired to unify operations and move data to the cloud. What used to be lengthy phone calls and handwritten notes are now convenient messages on Microsoft Teams or text.

Chris Diguette | Chief Information Officer | VNA Care Network & Hospice

“Unification is key,” Diguette says. “Company data was previously segregated and scattered instead of being farmed from one location.”

To this end, Diguette and the IT department worked with external vendor Simione—now SimiTree Healthcare—to create a digital dashboard and a customized data mining system.

In simple terms, this dashboard consolidates the operations of human resources, as well as executives and managers, to gauge patient needs or even the number of patients admitted compared to the number of incoming referrals from hospitals, physicians’ groups, and rehabilitation centers. It also stores medical records.

“This became imperative for finances and safety during the pandemic,” Diguette recalls. “We could track patients who were COVID-19 positive or were displaying systems. We could then determine which clinicians needed personal protective equipment to visit homes, since telehealth wasn’t always possible.”

Don’t judge a CIO by his computer screen

Chris Diguette has a penchant for the medical field. One of his first jobs, in fact, was as an electronic data interchange applications developer for Medic Computer Systems in the late 1990s.

Chris Diguette | Chief Information Officer | VNA Care Network & Hospice

However, he doesn’t spend all his time typing—he likes using his feet too. He’s been playing soccer and basketball since college when he was working toward his bachelor’s degree in management information systems at Nichols College.

While he shares his technical acumen with the medical community, he also imparts his sports wisdom to his daughter and several youth leagues. Currently, he’s the coach for a summer soccer team for high school female athletes.

“I’ve never stopped coaching or playing. I find as much joy traversing a freshly mowed field as I do lines of code,” Diguette says.

View this feature in the Fall I 2021 Edition here.

Published on: August 4, 2021

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