Email sent on May 1, 2020
Dear Friends of Michigan Medicine,
I am pleased to report to you that the plateau in cases of COVID-19 at Michigan Medicine has evolved into a decided downward trend. From a peak of 229 patients at one time on April 15, our numbers have dropped quickly, to 97 on Thursday of this week. This shift was achieved due to the tireless work of our employees, as well as your efforts to follow social-distancing and other public health guidelines. We are grateful for the role that the public has played in turning the tide and hope you will continue to follow public health guidelines.
The decline in numbers means that we now can turn some of our attention to the future. Many of the changes we are exploring will have a direct impact on patients at Michigan Medicine, and the lessons we have learned will help us to be more responsive to challenges in the future.
Our difficult journey over the last two months has presented a clear view of our opportunities and our shortcomings, and we believe we can learn from those in order to make sustained changes that will improve health care for all. Now is the time for us to look to the future and create what will become our new normal.
What has COVID-19 taught us?
First and foremost, we must build a stronger system that will be better prepared to weather any future crisis. While the quality of care and the intensity, commitment, and compassion throughout Michigan Medicine has been unparalleled, we can further improve on our performance should another crisis arise. This will become important as soon as a few months from now if we see an anticipated second wave of COVID-19 cases. Our ability to rapidly establish a regional infectious containment unit, or RICU, is just one great example of how we met this challenge at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
To continue to lead in this industry, we must become more productive and efficient, adapt even more quickly to new technologies, and anticipate the needs of our patients, their families, our staff, and our communities. Indeed, we have already started great work that will be vital for our future. Here are just a few examples:
The pandemic forced us to think and act with thoughtful, non-negotiable urgency. This culminated in our command center, which brought a cross-functional team of leaders together to discuss, strategize, and make decisions on critical issues. This daily collaboration will continue as a part of our new normal.
Shelter-in-place requirements drove us to utilize a variety of technologies to connect with each other and to reach out to our patients and their families. We have proven that with tools like Zoom, many in our work force can do their jobs remotely, while still being effective and productive.
From a clinical perspective, we are setting new paradigms for provider and patient interactions. In the month of March, we conducted over 8,000 virtual visits, which is a far greater number than we achieved over the prior year. We will continue virtual visits as a first-line option, which will greatly improve access. The vast majority of our patients (and providers) who used virtual health grew to like it for its convenience and ready access.
Based on what we learned about our hospital and clinical capacity through the pandemic, we know we need to move forward with 24/7 hospital operations and 12/7 clinic hours in order reduce length of stay, minimize disruptions in care, and standardize practices across our departments and units.
Although some research came to a halt at many of our labs, our researchers turned to technology-driven solutions to continue their work. The COVID-19 research that began during the past two months, as well as their regular research, will continue.
It will be a challenging journey for Michigan Medicine to establish the many “new normals” that will best meet the changing health care needs of our communities, and also a long journey for us to recover from the losses and financial impacts of this pandemic.
I’ll leave you with a story of one of the many patients who was treated for, and who recovered from, COVID-19 at Michigan Medicine. We have all heard more than our share of heartbreaking stories in recent weeks; now, we all deserve to hear this story of hope. This is why we do what we do. We provide the best possible care to patients so they can hug their partners and kids, and sign a new lease on life.
With kind regards,
Marschall S. Runge, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean, University of Michigan Medical School
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, U‑M
CEO, Michigan Medicine