Although fiction books might have hinted on it, no one was essentially prepared for a pandemic in the 21st century. Good thing for Dubai, they always have a disaster management and readiness plan, an overarching plan for all types of emergencies.
Within this plan, they activated the Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Centre, with operational and strategic functions central to their winning fight against the outbreak.
It’s operational and strategic
Crucial to each country’s pandemic response is the availability of hospital beds and supplies, such as protective equipment like N95 masks for staff. Dubai’s command centre fulfils the bed management and supply chain management roles, on top of other roles like the coordination of patient COVID-19 testing and finances.
The command centre coordinates four public hospitals, the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs), and the private facilities in Dubai, all working collaboratively with a common purpose, describes Dr Younis Mohammed Amin Kazim, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Healthcare Corporation, Dubai Health Authority (DHA).
Multiple entities working together proved beneficial to easily facilitate patient movement and effective virus containment. With near real-time update on bed capacity from hospitals, the DHA efficiently transfers and assigns patients according to clinical nature.
Apart from addressing COVID-19 related issues, the command centre strengthens the relationship among stakeholders, particularly the hospitals as they hold daily meetings and coordinate patient movement. Dr Karen Barbara Carbone, Advisor to the CEO for Dubai Healthcare Corporation, DHA, observes a “very positive experience” on the relationship between the centre and external agencies such as the ambulance agency and the police, among others.
The emirate’s COVID-19 Command Centre likewise plays a strategic role as it liaises between various organisations, including the federal entity (National Crisis Committee), the Ministry of Health, the authorities in Abu Dhabi and other emirates. Serving as a focal point, the command centre can make informed strategic decisions. Hence, it functions similar to an airport control tower, which relies on data from air traffic control and ground personnel to protect thousands of lives each day, as it manages Dubai’s pandemic response based on data gathered from different units.
High-quality data is the first step
A command centre is only as efficient as its data management, this is what Dr Carbone finds from the Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Centre’s activation, asserting that “high-quality data from relevant sectors is central in decision-making.” Without accurate data shared across the system, a coordinated approach is not possible.
Recognising the importance of data systems, the DHA is looking at utilising data in a real-time manner to support the command centre’s everyday operations. The DHA Command and Control will exist, even after the pandemic ends, “to manage the ebb and flow of healthcare in Dubai.”
It goes without saying, then, that having electronic data is one step for hospitals looking to build their own command centres. But they also need to use this data to identify areas of opportunity and determine bottlenecks.
For instance, hospitals dealing with issues on overnight stays in emergency rooms can make use of high-quality data to get estimates of patients’ length of stay, current patient volume, inpatient bed availability, and staff availability.
Electronic systems using real-time data can now trigger if a patient is deteriorating, hence, can help hospitals take proper and immediate action to resolve issues on sepsis and mortality, Dr Carbone shares.
Beyond data, healthcare organisations should work on improving the culture of collaboration among disparate entities. Rather than working as separate teams, working in “one line”, as Dr Kazim describes, better takes care of the bottlenecks.
Manpower remains the toughest challenge
Filling in these teams, however, is not at all easy. In fact, Dr Carbone shares that manpower was one of the biggest challenges they encountered in its activation. Skilled labour was required to manage the command centre and healthcare labour to care for the increasing number of critically ill patients.
Working through the resources, the DHA utilised the availability of internal staff and took in new personnel. Because elective surgeries were stopped, nurses and doctors were re-trained and re-assigned to areas related to their specialities. Volunteer physicians, nurses, and administrative personnel, who signed up through a website DHA has created, also came in.
Gaps were then filled in a more efficient but less costly means, supporting the premise that the command centre actually made everyone work together “for the sake of the patient, and for the sake of the country,” as Dr Kazim emphasises.