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Expert panel on infection control to tackle COVID-19 questions

Two men in hazmat suits Personnel with the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps help staff with the donning and decontamination of Proper Protective Equipment in Detroit, Michigan, April 17, 2020. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, provide military support to Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Miguel Pena)

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Defense Health Agency has received a flood of questions from military treatment facilities about infection control and prevention. The questions focus on providing a safe environment for patients and staff against the highly contagious respiratory virus.

“The rapidly evolving nature of this global pandemic has presented unique challenges for clinical management,” said Helen Crouch, infection prevention program manager, Quality and Safety Center U.S. Army Medical Command.

The DHA responded by gathering experts from the field and created a tri-service panel known as the Infection Prevention and Control Tiger Team. The IPC Tiger Team provides evidence-based answers to approximately 475 military hospitals, medical clinics and dental clinics within the Military Health System in a timely fashion, said team member Christopher Florez. “This team provides recommendations to the DHA task force, similar to the White House task force, which provides timely consistent, unified, evidence-based guidance for decisions,” added Florez, program director, EPIC Course AF/SG infection prevention consultant.

The IPC Tiger Team includes subject matter experts with various backgrounds in infection prevention and control, pharmacology, health care information technology, dentistry, quality, safety, and medical logistics. The fixed 12-member panel meets daily to review COVID-19 issues and questions from across the MHS.

Many of the questions posed to the team have dealt with personal protective equipment in different situations and potential scenarios. In April, the team began providing answers to common questions “based on the most current clinical guidance from various federal agencies, professional organizations, and peer reviewed publications,” according to Crouch.

The IPC Tiger Team is also taking requests for video consultations that leverage virtual health capabilities to provide "real time" assistance. Recently, the team conducted its first virtually enabled consult about infection control and prevention with the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam. “We are extremely excited to offer this capability,” Crouch added.

Under normal circumstances, infection prevention and control is key in any health care setting. Such measures directly impact the readiness of service members, explained Crouch. In the swiftly changing health care environment of COVID-19, the goal of the IPC Tiger Team is to provide unified expert guidance to the field, she said.

“We receive about 10-15 questions per week and the majority of the questions are complex, and require a significant amount of research. Our team works diligently to provide a concise, evidence-based, relevant answer,” said Elizabeth Campbell, the infection prevention control manager at the Naval Health Clinic Annapolis.

The IPC Tiger Team has combed through research publications and other resources created by front-line health care workers to find evidence-based solutions that can protect patients, visitors, and staff in MTFs, added Campbell.

“It has been truly amazing to witness how people have come up with new and innovative ideas to deal with health care challenges related to COVID-19. There have been some fantastic ideas and processes, which will undoubtedly become best practices,” she said.

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