As frontline healthcare workers across the United States continue to treat COVID-19 patients, staff at hospitals that have adopted a mobile app called Elemeno have at least one thing going for them: a coronavirus expert in their pocket.
“With this new app, our frontline staff has immediate access to recommended practices to safely care for patients who may have COVID-19,” said Kelly Mather, CEO of Sonoma Valley Hospital, a UCSF Health affiliate that is now using Elemeno at the recommendation of UCSF. “It has improved rapid communication and training for our frontline teams.”
The app was developed by a startup company that spun out of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), co-founded by Arup Roy-Burman, MD, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, and Ed Nanale, a veteran game developer. The Oakland, CA-based company, Elemeno Health, launched its first commercial product in 2017.
The best part about this app is that the more healthcare facilities that adopt it, the better the app becomes because it is designed to enable the users to add content and share it with other Elemeno users.
Then COVID-19 hit and the UCSF emergency department (ED) began adding COVID-related content to Elemeno.
"As COVID ramped up and San Francisco, for California, ground zero, the UCSF ED, their leadership sometimes multiple times a day were bringing in fresh content," Roy-Burman told MD+DI. "They were saying, 'forget about communicating through email, we're bringing that update straight here in Elemeno.'"
As UCSF emerged as a star institution for addressing COVID, other hospitals and EDs starting asking UCSF for their secret.
"They shared that a key part of how we're doing it is that we have a centralized, readily updatable, authoritative [app] that we can manage [quickly] that provides multimedia micro-learning support called Elemeno," Roy-Burman said.
That led to more emergency departments using the app and sharing what they've learned about the coronavirus and how they've adapted to the pandemic, which helps the next client that adopts the technology. Soon, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) became interested in the app, but they pointed out that a lot of emergency departments are smaller and don't have a full time medical director or the power of a large institution to constantly stay on top of the information and curate it, so scaling the app out to those emergency departments would require a different approach.
"So we partnered with ACEP to create a premium version of Elemeno that is streamlined to COVID best practices that can bring in stock, constantly-updated content from the community, that has been approved by ACEP, and the local hospital ED can add in their own local content related to COVID as well."
Roy-Burman said Elemeno has launched that premium version of the app to a couple of alpha customers and plans to roll it out to beta customers later this month, followed by general availability.
Using the app, frontline staff have quick access to the most current information on:
- Screening safely and preventing the spread of infection
- Managing patients with potential COVID-19 infection
- Quickly reporting suspected cases to health agencies
- Protective gear requirements
- How to videos (for example, how to put on and take off protective gear)
- How to protect other patients, hospital staff, and alleviate anxiety
- Shared UCSF COVID-19 practices
- Selected CDC and regional resources
The inspiration for creating Elemeno
Roy-Burman has always liked being a connector. He enjoys bringing people together and seeing the power of collective thought and teamwork. That passion served him well in his medical career.
"It was very early in my career that I came to appreciate the value of nurses. The value of our frontlines," he said. "It really didn't matter what I said as the attending physician if my team could not execute on the plan."
At every institution Roy-Burman has ever worked at he has seen patients die from preventable mistakes.
"And those are mistakes made by well-intentioned, hardworking staff who simply couldn't pull the information they needed when they needed it," he said.
And Roy-Burman knows firsthand the impact that such errors have on the patient's family. When he was 8 years old, his younger sister died in the operating room while being treated for a congenital heart disease.
"It was completely unexpected, it was not handled well, and from the best that I could conclude it was some type of an error," he said. "That was the first experience that I had with really seeing the impact of medicine on human life and the devestating impact it had on my parents."
As consumer technology continued to advance and bring conveniences to peoples' everyday lives, Roy-Burman wondered why the healthcare industry couldn't have that kind of technology-enabled convenience to improve patient care and support frontline staff.
Ultimately it was that desire to enable healthcare systems to be proactive, rather than reactive, in reducing medical errors.
In developing the app, Roy-Burman recognized the importance of gamification and leveraging expertise from the consumer tech world to make the gap as engaging and rewarding to the end user as possible. That's where the company benefited from Nanale's experience in the gaming world.
"All of our engineers have deep experience in either gaming or in search because when we talk about closing this knowledge-practice gap, you can create and try to deliver whatever content you want, but you need to be able to do it with a user experience that is engaging," Roy-Burman said. "And it's one that has to be attractive and simple enough for frontline staff, who are incredibly busy as it is, so that people can go into it on-demand when they need it."
The user is able to not only get something from it but they are able to contribute and provide feedback to leadership about what is working and what isn't.