The MAHEC Needs Assessment
Sheps is comprised of interdisciplinary physician and PhD level researchers, IT professionals, web application programmers, analytical programmers, experienced research staff, and students from all over campus. As COVID-19 forced research initiatives to a halt and people moved their offices to their homes, this group of talented individuals were eager to use their skills to help with this crisis from their bedrooms, kitchens, and home offices.
While Sheps IT project manager, and researcher Erica Richman was working from her own bedroom just a few weeks ago, she received a phone call from Dr. Jacquie Halladay, Research Professor of Family Medicine at UNC, and Chair of the Research at the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville (MAHEC). She said she needed to find a team to help to build a web-based platform to support data collection and outreach efforts in the MAHEC region to understand the needs of primary care practices dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is vitally important”, she said, “who do you think could help us do this?” Then she said she needed a cost estimate from the Sheps team within about 30 minutes. Erica immediately contacted her colleague Brian Cass, the Deputy Director of IT at Sheps and the race was on!
Within days, a survey and data collection systems were developed and deployed to hundreds of practices in the MAHEC region. Medical students and other volunteers called primary care practices to inquire about training needs, setting up telehealth, supply shortages, behavioral health needs, and more. Then, we connected practices with practice support coaches who provided direct support and relief along with daily video conference sessions where they could discuss telemedicine and COVID-19 cases and issues with peers and experts. Over 100 practices have responded so far to this MAHEC-funded initiative. Currently about 40% of responding practices can offer COVID-19 testing and for the next two weeks 60% said they had enough N95 respirators; although that number decreases when asked about four weeks from now. All the data, including interactive maps can be found at the MAHEC website: pub.mahec.net/sites/pages/covidsurvey.
Statewide North Carolina Primary Care Needs Assessment
In response to COVID-19, Sheps, together with North Carolina AHEC, and the NC DHHS Office of Rural Health (OHR), created and implemented a data collection system and survey focused on workforce and supply needs of primary care practices across the state of North Carolina. The system was inspired by a similar but smaller survey that targeted MAHEC practices, spearheaded by Jacquie Halladay. Brian Cass, with the help of Erica Richman and a team of Shepsters, worked tirelessly to create a system that was issued as a “Call to Action” by Roy Cooper, the NC Governor, and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NC DHHS when it was distributed via email by DHHS. One might assume that the State has a list of NC primary care practices to contact during emergency public health crises, but this is not the case. The grand challenge has been the collection of practice information; the team has successfully compiled 1,000 accurate practice contacts, but likely this is only one quarter of all NC primary care practices. Everyday NC AHEC, ORH, and Sheps continue their efforts to add practices, survey clinic personnel, and build the data system. Sheps is the perfect place to house the data; it has the advantage of being a neutral entity with the IT acumen and research infrastructure to execute such a project. We hope to maintain our partnerships and be ready to respond even faster next time North Carolina finds itself dealing with a public health crisis.
New and exciting opportunities have emerged from this collaboration. One of which is a large database comprised of COVID-19 survey response data from over 7 different State Partners. By compiling these surveys and making aggregate data available to stakeholders, NC will better be able to maximize its response to needs of its healthcare practices. An innovative use being developed is a comparison of NC Medicaid broadband desert data with cross-organization survey responses which will result in an interactive map of NC counties showing broadband access, telehealth uptake, and supply needs. We plan to make this tool available via the Sheps website as soon as it’s complete.
These efforts were made possible by the generous contributions of NC TraCS and NC Biotech.