Front Line of the FIGHT – How INEM is Fighting COVID-19
The role of INEM – the Portuguese National Emergency Medicine Institute – in the current COVID-19 pandemic has been very diverse. INEM was involved in the Portuguese national response to the pandemic even before the first case was diagnosed in mainland Portugal, in the repatriation of Portuguese and Brazilian citizens that lived in Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, in early February 2020.
Our workers, medical doctors, emergency nurses, medical emergency technicians and emergency psychologists, were always in the “front line of this fight”.
INEM’s strategy to tackle COVID-19 pandemic was based in four main purposes:
1) Maintain INEM’s day-to-day mission of responding to more than 3,500 daily emergency cases and the answering of almost 4,000 emergency calls in our CODU – Urgent Patients Coordination Centre 2) Guarantee a pre-hospital medical assistance to COVID-19 patients that showed gravity and emergency criteria
3) Support the Ministry of Health and other health authorities in the national and international response to the COVID-19 pandemic
4) Support other areas of governance
Having these guidelines as a base of action, COVID-19 demanded specific measures to guarantee an effective response. In the early stage of the pandemic, INEM implemented a Situation Room that constantly monitored the INEM and the Integrated Medical Emergency System activity, making sure that the day-to-day activity was not affected. INEM clinical registry tool – iTeams – was also adapted to the work with COVID-19 reality.
INEM also implemented specific ambulances and crews to deal with the first suspected cases of COVID-19. With the aggravation of the pandemic situation, all pre-hospital apparatus was involved in this fight. Our CODU adapted the triage telephonic algorithm to help signalize COVID-19 suspected cases and then alert the ambulance teams to this fact. Since March 2020, when the first case was diagnosed in Portugal, until 11st July 2021, INEM and its partners in the Integrated Medical Emergency System transported 171,059 COVID-19 suspected cases.
In March 2020, INEM created an emergency nurses’ teams to gather swab tests in specific locations, like nursing homes and prisons. The creation of these teams in the early stage of the pandemic allowed that people who presented with symptoms of the disease remained isolated in their residences, reducing the probability of unnecessary contacts and relieved extra pressure on hospital units. These teams also provided guidance for these people on how to remain isolated in their homes. Since the beginning of the pandemic, until 11th July 2021, these teams recollected 55,927 nasal swabs for COVID-19 analysis.
COVID-19 pandemic also boosted digital transformation at INEM. For the first time in history, CODU’s emergency technicians were able to answer emergency calls in their homes, which helped to reduce contacts between our workers and, therefore, the risk of getting infected. In general, most workers adopted home-office during the critical months of the pandemic. With the collaboration of some tech companies, INEM created an infrastructure and provided the equipment that allowed this to happen.
INEM also helped other countries in their fight against COVID-19. With the collaboration of the World Health Organization and the European Union, INEM provided training to health professionals in São Tomé e Príncipe and helped with the organization of the logistics of the country response to the pandemic.
These are a few examples of the work INEM has been doing since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
How Europe can perform better
Having a tool, or a set of tools, that will allow INEM and all other agencies involved in a future pandemic responses, will be a major help. As COVID-19 showed, a pandemic knows no borders. If these tools could be disseminated across Europe, sharing vital information immediately, the response of all countries would be much more effective.