In early April, 2020, Katherine Hochman, MD, was self-quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) when she decided to make the most of her isolation. So she turned her attention to a growing disconnect she had witnessed firsthand between physicians and the families of their patients. Ordinarily, clinicians update a patient’s family regularly, but as the number of COVID-19–infected patients surged, “we were so busy caring for the acutely ill that we weren’t able to do so with our usual rigor,” recalls Dr. Hochman, who leads a team of hospitalists at Tisch Hospital.
The need for such updates was all the more critical because bedside visitations were no longer deemed safe. She also learned that many concerned families were calling the hospital for information about their loved ones. “It was a very big gap that needed to be filled,” says Dr. Hochman, associate professor of medicine and associate chair for quality of care in the Department of Medicine. “So I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks in isolation, how can I fix this?’”
Dr. Hochman devised a plan, and on April 6 launched a new program, Family Connect, to provide proactive daily updates to families of hospitalized patients throughout the crisis. Attending physicians at NYU Langone Health were paired with medical students at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and these two-member teams were assigned to all patients on the Manhattan campus. The first colleague she reached out to was Michael P. Recht, MD, chair of the Department of Radiology, whose physicians—largely and reluctantly sidelined by the focus on COVID-19—were eager to pitch in. Other department chairs followed suit. Before long, Dr. Hochman recruited a small army of volunteers: 151 attending physicians, some 100 medical students, 51 nurses, and 43 employees who came from various departments to staff the Patient and Family Resource Center, which fielded inquiries from family members.
As of June 15, near the end of the spring surge, the teams made 14,166 calls in support of 1,869 patients. The Family Connect nurse liaisons, who facilitated video calls between families and patients, played an instrumental role in keeping families updated. Family Connect inspired NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn and NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island to develop their own versions of the program, which has become a model for other medical centers, as well.
“We were up and running in just five days,” explains Dr. Hochman. “The response from families was sheer appreciation and exuberance. And the project gave me focus and purpose at a time of great uncertainty.”