Sanford Health is now offering outpatient therapy to treat COVID-19 patients who are at high risk for hospitalization.
After receiving a referral for treatment from a provider, patients receive an infusion of monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses. In this case, they are designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.
Health care providers hope this will help more people avoid hospital stays while dealing with the disease.
This is particularly important as it applies to rural health. Better outcomes and fewer hospitalizations could count as a pair of victories for Sanford providers and their patients.
“That’s why we started looking at outpatient therapy — how can we lower the number of hospitalizations that we’re seeing?” said Jesse Breidenbach, Sanford Health senior executive director of pharmacy. “We were also trying to treat earlier in the disease. That makes a lot of sense for a viral infection.”
The development of an antibody treatment known as bamlanivimab by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly recently received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It has been shown to prevent certain high-risk populations from developing severe illness.
Most importantly, it’s now available at a growing number of locations across the Sanford system, including in many rural communities.
Vital outpatient treatment
“We’re very proud that as an organization with a broad footprint, we’re able to provide these therapies in so many locations,” said Amy Thiesse, Sanford Health vice president of nursing and clinical services, health network. “We’re able to meet our patients close to their homes.”
Sanford is delivering vital treatment thanks to effective planning and staffing. Distribution is an integral part of providing health care when geography presents its own unique challenges.
“The goal of therapy is to provide it to the appropriate population and to keep people healthy and out of the hospital,” Thiesse said. “We want to stem progression of the virus and the clinical condition that can come with it.”
When a patient tests positive for COVID-19, the result is shared in Sanford’s electronic medical record. A nurse will review the record, which includes patient-specific risk, to determine if the patient meets the criteria to receive the antibody treatment. Primary care providers can also make direct referrals to identify patients who would qualify for these therapies.
The antibody drug must be ordered by a physician and is administered via a one-time infusion.
A top priority
“We have a great clinical team that has been able to evaluate our patients over the course of the pandemic, identify what works best and then share that information,” Thiesse said. “By doing that we’ve been able to make a positive impact. In the outpatient setting we’re able to provide therapies to patients before they become so ill they need hospitalization or emergency department visits.”
As one of the nation’s largest integrated health care systems, Sanford has the infrastructure needed to provide access to COVID-19 treatments for rural communities. In this situation, meeting the challenge is accompanied by a strong spirit of cooperation.
“Our rural providers are so passionate about their patients in their communities,” Thiesse said. “It’s never a question of ‘should we?’ It’s a question of ‘when’ and ‘how quickly can we have the therapies available?’”
In many instances, these front-line care givers have themselves been affected by the pandemic. Regardless, they’re moving forward. Providing outpatient therapy is another example.
“We’re all very appreciative that we’re part of an organization that keeps our rural care givers a top priority,” Thiesse said. “They’re very passionate about providing care in part because they’re assured their organization will help make it happen.”
Sanford Health currently has COVID-19 infusion centers operating in the following locations:
- Clear Lake
- Thief River Falls
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