At the height of the COVID-19 surge late last year, approximately one quarter of the patients who visited PAMF respiratory care clinics (RCCs) tested positive for the disease. Of those, the vast majority were sent home to isolate and recover.
“This disease acts in strange ways,” says RCC lead Jennifer Louie, M.D., an urgent care physician at PAMF Fremont Center. “Patients can feel fine one day and then, five to seven days into the disease, oxygen levels can tank.”
This observation led Dr. Louie and the Fremont RCC team to conduct an impromptu pilot project. Using funds from the family medicine department, they purchased 12 pulse oximeters—devices that measure oxygen levels in the blood—to hand out to patients who had recently tested positive for COVID-19. This way, if a patient’s symptoms worsened at home, a clinician could ask them during a follow-up call or video visit to use the pulse oximeter and report the reading.
“This is a key element of the vitals assessment that we normally can’t get when a patient is at home,” Dr. Louie explains. “Purchasing and handing out pulse oximeters was not expensive to do, but it has made a big impact on care. We can catch cases sooner when patients may need to be admitted, but we can also keep people out of the emergency department.”
While some emergency departments had already been giving patients pulse oximeters to take home, this was the first time the concept had been tried in an outpatient setting. Building off the pilot’s success, Dr. Louie wanted to expand the idea to all four PAMF RCCs.
Having received a grant to bring video translation technology to our clinics a few years ago, she knew to approach the PAMF philanthropy team for help.
“I was delighted to secure funds to purchase at least 2,000 pulse oximeters,” Dr. Louie says. “Philanthropy has been a great partner to bring our ideas to life, and it is truly making a difference and impacting patient outcomes.”
Clinical teams established parameters to dictate which patients should receive pulse oximeters. To do so, they identified critical criteria that put certain patients at higher risk for more severe cases of COVID-19, including age and comorbidities such as heart or lung disease.
Each clinic started with 100 pulse oximeters and subsequently increased its next order to 200 units.
“This is truly a gift that keeps on giving,” Dr. Louie says. “Once a patient recovers from COVID-19, they can pass the pulse oximeter on to a friend or loved one diagnosed with the disease. All that person has to do is change the battery. It is not often that you see something so inexpensive have a long-lasting effect.”