Virtual infection prevention and control assessments can reach four times as many facilities as onsite visits in the same timeframe, according to a study of 92 skilled nursing facilities early in the pandemic.

The investigation was part of a pilot project in New York involving a telephone and video assessment of IPC measures in facilities at high risk or experiencing COVID-19 activity. The study covered 14 counties, including New York City. Assessors used a screening tool; telephone IPC checklist, and COVID-19 video IPC assessment to complete their work.

More than half of the assessments (57%) were conducted as part COVID-19 investigations, and 43% were proactive prevention-based assessments. Among the proactive assessments, 35% identified suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, reported author Belinda Ostrowsky, M.D., a field officer with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues from other New York state academic and health institutions.

Video assessment was conducted 28% of the time. This method provided observations that other tools would have missed, the authors said. These included personal protective equipment that was not easily accessible, redundant, or improperly donned, doffed, or stored; and specific challenges implementing IPC in specialty populations, they wrote. 

The IPC assessments took approximately one hour each. Compared to onsite skilled nursing home visits, the investigators estimated that the remote visits quadrupled the number of facilities assessors could reach in a similar timeframe.

The remote IPC assessments allowed investigators to gauge the extent and success of nursing home staff members’ IPC interventions in vulnerable settings, the study team concluded. And they also enabled assessors to provide real-time recommendations in real time, they added.

Remote assessments have since been implemented across New York state and in various healthcare settings. The CDC said it has adapted similar methods nationally.

Full findings were published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.