Innovation in Crisis: Conway Regional’s shift to telemedicine, telecommuting was years in the making

For nearly 100 years, Conway Regional has served members of our community with high-quality, compassionate health care services. As the community continues to grow, Conway Regional is also growing, supporting patients and their families with new medical offices, more specialists, innovative services, and expanded access to care.  

This continued growth is a strategic priority for the organization, ensuring the health care needs of the community are met for years to come. Sometimes, though, challenges arise, like COVID-19, that accelerate the pace and increase the need for growth and innovation.

When COVID-19 arrived in Arkansas, the need for telemedicine and remote work services became much more pressing. “In health care, we run into challenges, not away from them,” said Matt Troup, President and CEO of Conway Regional Health System. “With COVID-19, we were facing the challenge of finding a way to continue providing the health care services needed within the communities we serve, while protecting the health and well-being of our team members who were responsible for providing that care in the midst of a global pandemic. We identified the rapid implementation of telemedicine and telecommuting policies as a solution to both facets of this challenge.”  

Providing telemedicine services has been an important initiative for Conway Regional for many years. However, it is not as simple as turning on a computer for a video call. In 2017, the information systems department began laying the technical groundwork, as hardware and software were upgraded throughout the health system. These updates, known as Project NextGen, were the basis for future telemedicine and remote work plans at Conway Regional. The information systems department utilized the updated infrastructure to pilot a remote work policy as a starting point for building a more mobile work force.   

A person is having a video chat with another person on a mobile device.

At the same time, the Conway Regional human resources department began drafting a remote work policy for the organization. “Active employee engagement is a pillar of the culture at Conway Regional,” said Richard Tyler, Chief Human Resources Officer for Conway Regional. “As such, the human resources team values employee feedback and routinely conducts research to identify benefits that will keep our staff engaged with their work.” Human resources identified telecommuting as a way to prevent employee burnout and improve work-life balance, looking to partners in the state for guidance and noting the success of the trial run implemented within the information systems department.  

Arkansas had its first COVID-19 case on March 11, 2020, and Conway Regional went live with telemedicine services just one week later on March 18. Often called one of the most unprecedented times in history, the pandemic severely limited access to in-person health care services. However, the need for high-quality care steadily increased. Conway Regional quickly opened a call center to answer questions from the public about COVID-19, offered online screening tools, and launched telemedicine options. These services provided the care patients needed, as well as education on prevention, quarantine, and testing related to COVID-19.  

As Conway Regional continued to meet the needs of the community, the services expanded, scaling out to Conway Regional’s primary care clinics, giving providers an opportunity to triage patient needs before scheduling in-person visits. As of October 2020, there were over 90 primary care physicians utilizing telemedicine services in the communities served by Conway Regional.  

Additionally, remote work options for employees became an immediate necessity when COVID-19 arrived in the state. Following Arkansas’ first case, many Conway Regional employees who could work without being on-site began working remotely. Information systems utilized a secure login platform to allow employees to access the hospital’s systems and applications. Additionally, Microsoft’s 365 platform, including Microsoft Teams, and Zoom video conferencing became staple tools used to keep the organization connected.   

Troy Brooks, the Chief Financial Officer of Conway Regional Health System, spent 10 weeks working from home—an experience new to him during his 39 years in health care.  “Working remotely was a significant mindset shift for many of our employees,” said Brooks. “It challenged our team to communicate differently, using software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Our team still performed their jobs, just in a different way. It gave us an opportunity to examine all aspects of our workflow and make improvements to create a better experience.”  

Many employees returned to their offices in June, prompting the formation of the remote work policy committee. This committee included team members from across the organization to provide needed input on a more permanent telecommuting policy. Utilizing the existing policy drafted by human resources, the committee finalized and rolled out a remote work policy for Conway Regional in August of 2020. This policy considered employee eligibility—looking at employee suitability, job responsibilities, and equipment needs—as well as remote work costs, work environment and connectivity, security, safety, and timekeeping to ensure success for telecommuting employees.   

The implementation and utilization of a telecommuting policy allowed Conway Regional to continue to operate and to provide the much-needed health care services to the community during a pandemic, simultaneously providing work options for employees that protected their health and safety.   

“Through these innovative efforts, we are able to meet the current needs of our patients, while growing and adapting the services of our health system to support our growing communities,” said Troup. “These changes enrich the patient experience as we provide additional capacity, convenience, and comfort.” 

This article first appeared in the 2021 Conway+ Community Profile & Resource Guide. 

A man has a telemedicine appointment with his doctor at Conway Regional.

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