Managing global operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Q&A with Hilary Lyon

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged health care systems across the globe. In a time of great need, organizations attempted to quickly shift operations in order to respond and support those they serve. This required clear direction by leaders, an understanding of the challenges ahead and a systematic approach. 

headshot of Hilary Lyon headshot of Hilary Lyon

As a global company that operates 53 hospitals and 216 outpatient or ambulatory clinics, while supporting 7.5 million members across 130 countries, UnitedHealthcare Global was uniquely positioned to address COVID-19. 

Hilary Lyon, vice president of clinical operations for UnitedHealthcare Global, shares a few best practices and learnings the team discovered through the intersection of global expertise and local resources.

What were some of the key challenges the team faced?

First, the pandemic emerged at different times within different countries and continents and spread at different rates. As with any emerging virus, information and guidance were extremely limited, continually evolving and varied by country. Lastly, due to the symptoms and treatment requirements of COVID-19, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) were mission-critical supplies. Nearly every health care system and country around the world was competing for these scarce resources. 

How did you approach some of those challenges?

As clinicians and leaders, we sought to use the best evidence to provide clear direction and evaluate what was needed. This enabled our organization to identify our critical needs and risks. It also empowered us to prioritize what we needed to do, and how we needed to help mitigate the pandemic. This allowed us to harness our global strengths while allowing for local adaptation.

As COVID-19 spread quickly across Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Portugal, how did you keep the markets aligned?

We assembled a cross-functional clinical and supply chain work group to identify, support and monitor our respective markets’ readiness to mitigate this pandemic. 

Teams also created and deployed an evidenced-based readiness report, based on 74 clinical indicators, to ensure preparation of clinical operations and continuity of care. We measured each market using a simple red, yellow, green indicator report. Weekly team huddles allowed us to share best practices and on-the-ground experiences.

Supply chains were also incredibly important. We implemented a novel global and local supply chain and procurement process to maximize all supply chain relationships — and import/export medical supplies and equipment across borders. By applying World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control guidance, UnitedHealthcare Global's corporate supply chain and clinical leaders were able to develop an estimated PPE demand forecast. We incorporated historical patient volumes and membership rates with anticipated COVID-19 contraction rates to estimate how much PPE each market would need in peak and near-peak conditions. This helped ensure there were no gaps — every requested ventilator or stock of PPE made it to patients and clinicians.

What were some of the best practices you identified in this process? 

A couple of things. First, we identified a patient safety officer in each of our hospitals who promoted, reminded and educated staff on the correct use of PPE. Care delivery teams assessed their ability to deliver appropriate home care support in patients’ homes, as an alternative to an inpatient admission.

We also established dedicated equipment, teams and ambulances to transport suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases to help reduce cross-contamination during emergency transport.

Finally, our market leaders created an inventory of each market’s capabilities to provide telemedicine as an alternative to office visits and hospitalizations. We rapidly recruited physicians and nurses to provide telemedicine services, expanding this capability dramatically. This resulted in a reduction in unnecessary patient travel and sped up the diagnosis of suspected cases without patients having to leave their homes.

Ultimately, the solutions that kept clinicians safe and gave patients best possible care were made possible by the dedicated work of all UnitedHealthcare Global partners coming together. The “team of teams” strategy brought people together to face a formidable enemy, helping us become more resilient, agile and ready to manage the next health emergency.

To read more about the COVID-19 response and insights from UnitedHealthcare Global, click here