Leading in a Hot Zone

ACR-18Dana H. Smetherman, MD, MPH, MBA, FACR, chair of the American College of Radiology® (ACR®) Commission on Breast Imaging, contributed this post.

The first Louisiana patient with COVID-19 was identified on March 9. By April 28, there were 27,286 cases and 1,758 deaths from the disease in our state. While these statistics pale in comparison to states like New York and New Jersey, Louisiana is ranked sixth in the nation for number of cases at 585 and fifth for number of deaths at 38 per 100,000. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 is now declining, when cases peaked in Louisiana, the hospitals in our system, Ochsner Health, were caring for more than 60% of COVID-19 inpatients in New Orleans and more than 30% in the state.

As chair of the radiology department at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, my leadership team and I have employed several strategies to lead during this crisis.

  • Communicate — In-person conversations, phone calls, texts, emails, virtual staff meetings, social media and picture archive and communication system (PACS) chat functions have all been part of our approach to departmental communication. In this rapidly evolving situation, we have also encouraged our colleagues to use virtual tools to facilitate interactions with residents, referring providers and technologists. In-person rounding by department leaders has enabled rapid identification and resolution of issues, including the emotional support needs of our colleagues.
  • Prioritize the safety of our colleagues, employees and patients — Social distancing in the workplace (including physically separating physicians in reading rooms and deploying home workstations where appropriate) and providing adequate, readily available personal protective equipment are some of the most important methods to ensure the safety of our physicians, advanced practice providers and employees.
  • Highlight positive achievements and express gratitude — Though all of us are facing unprecedented uncertainty, we are striving to highlight positive outcomes, such as the number of patients extubated and discharged, the development of abundant, readily available in-house polymerase chain reaction and antibody testing and successful recruitment to COVID-19 clinical trials. At Ochsner, we have also celebrated our “health care heroes” in internal and external communications, including social media.

As we transition to the next phase of this pandemic and develop strategies to reopen imaging services, new challenges will undoubtedly arise, as will the need to adopt different leadership strategies. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that the lessons learned and knowledge gained in this first skirmish of our battle with COVID-19 will serve us well as our specialty and community navigate the uncharted waters ahead.

  • This blog post expands upon Dr. Smetherman’s remarks during the ACR Radiology Leadership Institute® Leadership Town Hall: Leading in Times of Crisis. If you missed the livestream event, you can catch the replay and access additional resources at acr.org/covid19.

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