Preparing for Vaccine Distribution, Navigating Pivots at HCA

December 9, 2020

In this episode of One Quick Thing, Chip Blaufuss discussed how his team at HCA pivoted on projects during the pandemic and improved the telehealth experience. Blaufuss is the Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at HCA in Nashville.

HCA is a $51 billion for-profit operator of 185 hospitals and approximately 2,000 other care sites, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics. The company operates in 21 states in the US and the UK. 

Three takeaways from the conversation follow.

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Even though the organization had been monitoring COVID-19 in China since January, the company pivoted in March of 2020 to respond to rising cases in the US. 

“[Our CEO told me,] ‘We’re gonna have one focus for the next for the foreseeable future. And that’s COVID response,” Blaufuss recalled. “We shifted… All the innovation projects, all of our IT projects all got…paused.” 

From that point forward, Blaufuss’ team of 25 focused on COVID-related challenges — including expanding telehealth, creating personal protective equipment, and scenario planning. 

“We also set up a 24/7 chat room that the emergency ops teams could send a question in, ask about how to process a patient, how to set up a tent, what about ventilation, alternatives to ventilation,” he said. ” We would triage that question, track down the answer, and then share it with the rest of the group.” 

Looking Toward a COVID-19 Vaccine 

With promising trial results and approval on the way, Blaufuss said the biggest challenge related to vaccine distribution is different approaches each state has for a rollout.  

“Every state is coming up with a different approach, different prioritizations [for who gets vaccinated first],” he said. “It’s really working through the logistics and making sure that every hospital is positioned to [distribute vaccines]. We’re in 20 states. We’re trying to figure out 20 different ways of distributing vaccines.” 

Other challenges include incentivizing patients to return for the two rounds of shots needed for immunization, and the different ways the vaccine candidates must be managed — including Pfizer’s vaccine that requires storage at minus 70 degrees Celsius. 

Working with Consultants 

According to Blaufuss, HCA reduced the number of contractors and consultants that they work with as a cost-saving measure. However, “where we have found the need for the consultants right now…[is] to help us track data down,” Blaufuss said.  

The company has also worked with consultants to understand how the economy might change due to the pandemic. “What are the scenarios? What’s going to happen to health care, depending on the election?” Blaufuss explained. “If unemployment skyrockets, how will that impact the uninsured?”