Four months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S., 87,000 COVID-19 tests had been administered across the country — but about two-thirds of those were still awaiting results.
By then, experts widely agreed testing played a critical role in preventing the spread of the virus. The faster clinicians could diagnose COVID-19 cases, the better they would be able to manage healthcare resources and patient care. But testing labs experienced major backlogs, taking as much as two weeks to deliver results. Those who needed immediate answers were left in the dark.
A team of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) wanted to do their part to help. Within weeks, they converted their research space to a COVID-19 diagnostic lab. IGI set up Salesforce’s partner portal to communicate test results in just 24 hours, and quickly scaled up to process over 1,000 patient samples per day.
The institute originally began in 2014 as a joint initiative between UC Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco to study ways to use genetic engineering in medicine and agriculture.
But as the world faced a daunting public health crisis and regular research was forced to pause due to shelter-in-place regulations, IGI saw an opportunity to repurpose its equipment, state-of-the-art facilities, and well-trained research staff in the fight against COVID-19. Under the leadership of Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a team of 50 scientists, clinicians, and volunteers now run a fully functioning COVID-19 pop-up diagnostics lab.
“Science has two speeds. Many will be familiar with the slow, gradual science that builds knowledge over time. But there’s also a very rapid speed that can happen when scientists come together behind a common goal, especially in a time of crisis,” said Doudna, executive director of IGI and a professor at UC Berkeley. “For times like this, you need tools that can be built quickly and adapted to the current need.”
To make the transformation possible, IGI needed to find an interactive and secure way to transmit test results back to its healthcare partners. Salesforce’s partner portal met all those needs and more.
In one day, the team built a portal on Salesforce to serve as a one-stop-shop for healthcare providers and clinicians. Using an out-of-the-box template outfitted with IGI branding, they configured the entire portal with clicks. No coding experience necessary.
With the portal up and running, IGI was able to share data from its internal Salesforce instance to third-party stakeholders. In this case, that meant surfacing patient records and test results within the portal to healthcare systems and clinics. Meanwhile, doctors could go to the same place to request COVID-19 tests and share other relevant information with the lab. At every step, sharing rules and security layers ensure patient privacy and compliance with healthcare regulations.
The portal also automated workflows to minimize time-consuming, error-prone manual steps. For example, when a healthcare provider submits a sample, that automatically kicks off a series of business processes behind the scenes in Salesforce to streamline the experience for IGI and its partners alike.
It was also agile and flexible enough to adapt to emerging needs. When IGI asked healthcare clinicians using the portal to provide ideas for improvement, doctors requested a new feature: the ability to track whether a patient had been informed of his or her diagnosis. Almost immediately, IGI was able to incorporate this feedback into the portal.
By scaling to process over 1,000 tests per day, IGI expanded its reach in the community, focusing on vulnerable communities, critical utility workers, and first responders.
Those numbers add up to real impact. For example, the Berkeley Fire Department had to place 25% of its staff on mandatory leave after a firefighter tested positive for the coronavirus. But with new processes in place, IGI was able to quickly test the staff and clear many of them to return to their critical work.
IGI research scientist Alex Ehrenberg hopes to apply their learnings beyond the Bay Area by sharing IGI’s story.
“We need tools to get back to work, and a robust testing framework is going to be more and more important as we try to reintroduce aspects of society,” he said. “There are lots of parts of the country that don’t have that infrastructure yet, so we’re trying to share our blueprint with the world.”
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