By Lucinda Welch
IT systems architect connects patients, COVID-19 vaccines
Coffee and love for her mom kept Brittany Anderson going during marathon work days when COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December of 2020.
Brittany is an information technology systems architect. When leaders have a grand vision — like providing vaccines quickly to hundreds of thousands of people — it’s people like Brittany who make it happen.
And the ask back in 2020 was huge.
Vaccines makers were starting to ship life-saving doses. But there would not be enough for everyone at first.
So, Brittany and her team helped solve an urgent concern: making sure some of the most vulnerable patients — those ages 70 and older — could be first to get vaccines, along with health care workers.
Ultimately, UCHealth workers have administered more than 820,000 vaccines and over 1 million COVID-19 tests. To schedule all of those appointments required intensive, inventive behind-the-scenes design, setup and software builds.
Brittany was working remotely, and the days were long — often from 6 a.m. until after 9 p.m. She recalls little things that gave her a sense of connection in the isolation, like her favorite coffee mug, a gift from a friend. Embellished with a “bearly awake” bear and filled with espresso, it was a perfectly stimulating reminder of pre-COVID-19 days of travel and adventures in Alaska.
Keeping Brittany going, along with her espresso, was a special person awaiting a vaccine: her mom, who is battling cancer.
“She’s immunocompromised, so when this was coming about, she was on my mind. I wanted to make sure she was protected.”
Brittany’s mom wouldn’t be at the top of the list to get her vaccines. But, as Brittany worked those long days, she knew she’d be protecting people like her. Health care workers had priority. Along with them, UCHealth randomly selected patients 70 or older, giving them the first opportunity to make appointments. Patients in this age group are less likely to use the online scheduling system, My Health Connection. So, the scheduling team needed a better way to efficiently connect them to the life-saving shots.
Brittany took the challenge to her team: “Let’s see if there’s a way we can do that.”
Brittany likes puzzles and figuring things out; that’s what attracted her to becoming an analyst in the first place. With positive attitudes and can-do spirit, her team invented three workflows for scheduling: via My Health Connection, a call center and walk-ins.
Brittany and her co-workers celebrated when a respiratory therapist at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital became the first person in Colorado to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020.
“We started giving vaccinations to the public on my birthday, so even though with the crazy work hours there was no time to really celebrate my birthday, we did celebrate that. It was pretty cool.”
Within days, the most at-risk patients were getting their shots. Some older adults were so excited for their vaccination appointments that they got gussied up as though heading to a party or church.
UCHealth went live at 11 vaccine locations, which required a build-out of these new “departments” in Epic, the electronic health records system. Normally, it takes 90 days to create a department.
“We built all of these COVID vaccination clinic departments in a month and a half. There were some long days. We worked weekends, and canceled holiday vacations, but we got it done,” says Anderson.
They had to find a way to have the system schedule two appointments for each patient — which had never been done in Epic before. Then other vaccines came on the scene, and the timing for a second Moderna dose was different than the timing for Pfizer. Anderson and her team collaborated with other IT teams to manage available doses/appointments, establish correct billing codes for all the various categories of patients, and to build orders with the correct doses for the correct populations.
“I’m just very grateful that people were willing to jump in and help,” Brittany said. “The visit instructions that patients had to have were changing. We had to check appointment reminders. We had to update the questions. All of these changes — it was just a lot. It was intense.”
In February, Brittany’s mom got her first dose. And, soon the whole family was fully vaccinated and Brittany could breathe a sigh of relief.
Through countless unprecedented challenges, Brittany and her co-workers were fueled by the notion their work was having a positive impact against the raging global pandemic. And for at least 820,000 reasons, it was.
Since then, when people learn what Brittany does for a living — like when she’s enjoying time off on the golf course — she often receives kind comments.
“I got so many thank yous from people who scheduled through UCHealth, who used our platform to get vaccinated and they were very grateful. For all the long days, it was very rewarding to see my work impact people directly and make a difference in their lives.”
She attributes the success of the vaccination program to the amazing people on her team and their collaboration with others across the UCHealth system. Anderson has been with UCHealth for 7 1/2 years. On weekend mornings, when she’s not supporting COVID-19 vaccine clinics, you may find her cheering on Liverpool — her favorite soccer team — over a cup of coffee.
What is it about soccer? It requires remarkable teamwork, like her job.
“Every single person is necessary to get the job done for our patients,” Anderson said. And that is what matters to her most—the people. Even though she’s not directly working with patients, they are front and center in her mind all the time.