Why Pandemic-Initiated Safety Protocols Are Here to Stay

By Jennifer Williams, RN, MBA, PhD, JD

The pandemic drove healthcare providers and vendors to take an even closer look at facility entrances: who enters a facility, how they come in, and how they leave. On a typical, pre-pandemic day, vendors would plan a visit, verify their identity, enter the facility, and receive a compliant badge—often via a credentialing kiosk. Until registration was complete and all requirements fulfilled, vendor representatives weren’t authorized to do business with the hospital. However, enforcement was sometimes inconsistent across facilities, departments, vendor entities, and representatives.

Then, COVID-19 hit and heightened public awareness of safety protocols. Healthcare facilities were acutely aware of the need to consistently enforce protocols for verifying who was in a building at a given time. In response, mobile COVID-19 health screening apps became part of the procedure, integrating with credentialing kiosks to provide healthcare facilities with a consistent approach to creating safer spaces for patients, providers, visitors, and vendors.

This shift has elevated credentialing and badging to a strategic imperative: one that is on the C-suite’s radar and is fast becoming part of hospitals’ standard operating procedures post-COVID-19.

The pandemic has forever changed access to healthcare facilities

Compliance obligations have long required healthcare providers to screen and verify vendors before they enter a facility. Providers are also responsible for managing the physical and personal security of patients, staff, and individuals, according to Joint Commission standard EC.02.01.01.

The pandemic underscored the importance of enforcing these protocols. Along with the imperative of knowing who is in a facility at any time, providers must ensure there aren’t any unregistered or noncompliant badges on-site.

As pandemic-initiated technologies emerged and existing technologies found new uses, healthcare facilities adopted technology solutions to provide an additional layer of safety and security. These solutions include touchless health screening apps, temperature assessment devices, and geolocation technologies.

Health screening apps powered by quick response (QR) codes make it easy for anybody entering a building to use their smartphone to quickly check in and privately answer symptom-related questions. Along with streamlining the check-in process through a touchless solution, the QR-coded approach also allows a facility to verify a person’s identity more accurately. Temperature assessments offer a way to validate the self-reported answers to the health screening questions on the check-in app. Geolocation data, meanwhile, complements the other two solution types. Combining these technologies, it is possible to verify that everyone who has participated in the check-in is on-site, is at a determinable location, and has undergone the necessary health screening upon arrival.

These solutions provide a comprehensive, qualified record of who has been in a facility while offering the assurance that everybody on-site meets standard health and safety requirements. However, modern technologies often operate in silos. For healthcare facilities to provide optimal safety and security, they must integrate these technologies with an existing credentialing solution.

The hidden costs of an outdated credentialing system

As we ease into a post-pandemic world, today’s healthcare facilities require a modern, digital credentialing system, ideally one with sufficient credentialing rigor that is further supported by an integrated mobile health screening app. Without this powerful combination, healthcare providers may face unnecessary risk and vendors may experience delayed or denied access to a building.

Delayed delivery, especially regarding time-sensitive products or urgent supplies, can have a significant ripple effect on many people in the facility—including patients. It also puts the provider-vendor relationship at risk.

In contrast, a modern credentialing system helps providers reduce administrative costs through streamlined processes. It also results in more effective vendor management while offering unique insights to improve patient and staff safety and security. These insights can help providers manage whom they do business with and work efficiently with business associates.

The post-pandemic benefits of an integrated credentialing mobile app and badging kiosk solution

As facilities integrate their credentialing mobile app and badging kiosk solutions, they’re seeing additional, long-term benefits beyond the pandemic. One example is limiting the spread of infection by tailoring the health screening questions to check for symptoms beyond COVID-19. This is significant when one realizes that, according to the CDC, healthcare-associated infections impact an estimated 2 million patients annually, costing U.S. hospitals between $28 billion and $45 billion each year.

Also, by streamlining the visitor and vendor monitoring process, hospital staff can better focus on patient care. From a vendor relationship perspective, a streamlined process fosters trusted connections between providers and vendors. And from a facilities management point of view, it establishes a foundation for compliance and future infection control protocols.

First impressions are lasting impressions. When a vendor, visitor, patient, or staff member approaches a healthcare facility, they expect ease of entry and safety. Yet the pandemic made us all think differently about our face-to-face interactions, adding health screenings to the already rigorous credentialing process. By having greater visibility into the way people enter hospital facilities, a health system strengthens its commitment to patient safety and empowers vendor representatives to better serve the organization.

At first, these additional steps may have seemed temporary or a further encumbrance because they created even more data records. But those records are essential in the event of an emergency; for example, they can help a hospital conduct contact tracing in the event of a disease outbreak. Over time, the technology designed to support these pandemic-initiated protocols has evolved. Today, facilities are realizing these technologies speed up the credentialing process without compromising safety or security. In return, a facility can enjoy a stronger reputation and better relationships with vendors, staff, patients, and visitors.

Jennifer Williams, RN, MBA, PhD, JD, is director of market development & education at GHX.