At the beginning of January, as the very first COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S., health officials in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania began monitoring the virus spread and preparing for their local response to it. As federal funding became available through the CARES Act, the County rolled out one of the earliest and largest testing initiatives in the Commonwealth by mid-April. One of their main concerns for mass public testing was breaking down barriers to access.
“We’ve always known that the only way we’re going to get control over COVID-19 is by having public mass testing access with minimal barriers,” shares Dr. Alvin Wang, Montgomery County Regional EMS Medical Director and the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Public Safety, “and it’s our responsibility to provide that testing in a responsible and equitable fashion.”
In the interest of maximizing accessibility and community safety, Montgomery County partnered with Solv to implement online scheduling and contactless visit workflow. The solution has enabled six different COVID testing sites to safely operate in Montgomery County, seeing more than 16,000 patients from July to October, 2020.
Goals for COVID Testing
- Maximize federally derived CARES funds to provide free public testing
- Democratize accessibility of test sites by breaking down financial, geographical and temporal barriers
- Implement contactless workflow to limit community spread
- Offload the burden of testing from primary care providers, allowing them to focus on their own patients
- Provide speedy, reliable test results to accurately track and respond to COVID cases
Barriers to Access and Implemented Solutions
- Financial Barriers
One of the largest barriers to testing access is financial. Testing was initially only available to those with a referral or doctors note and a method of payment. When they were provided with federal funding through the CARES Act, the County chose to prioritize free and equitable public testing in order to effectively track and combat the virus. Free public testing was available by March 21, only about two weeks after the first case in the County.
- Geographical Barriers
Using available, pre-existing buildings would have resulted in disproportionately centered testing sites. To avoid concentration in business districts and urban centers, County officials decided to launch the testing initiatives from thoughtfully placed semi-permanent trailers. Six walk-up testing sites were established, each easily accessible by public transportation.
- Temporal Barriers
“We recognize that not everyone has standard working hours, so we wanted to make sure to provide testing outside of conventional business hours,” shares Dr. Wang. Recognizing that few people are afforded the luxury of standing in line for the better part of their day, Montgomery County partnered with Solv to implement a scheduling system, allowing consumers to book COVID testing and avoid long lines. This allows County residents to arrive, be tested, and return to isolation with minimal contact with the community. Each testing site is allotted 50 test kits per day, and four of the six sites frequently reach maximum capacity.
- Safety Concerns
To avoid the inherent dangers that come with standing in line for testing, Montgomery County chose to implement Solv’s virtual check-in and registration, AI powered waitlist, and in-app messaging system to reduce person-to-person contact. Individuals who have scheduled a test can scan their ID, check in for their appointment and view their place in a virtual queue, all from their phones.
Solv’s AI powered waitlist allows operators to seamlessly blend walk-in and booked appointments, and consumers can easily view their place in line and ask questions using the in-app messaging system. All of these features are optimized to support an efficient, contactless workflow, protecting those staffing the testing sites and test recipients alike.
COVID Testing Program Results
- More tests completed: As of late October, more than 16,000 COVID-19 testing appointments were booked through Solv. Thanks to Solv’s automated appointment reminder system, 86% of these exams were completed, and the majority of testing sites frequently reach test capacity. Providing fast, reliable testing allows county officials to accurately track and respond to COVID case surges.
- Higher likelihood of testing: Montgomery county saw a 71% increase in bookings per day in the first 75 days of implementing Solv’s scheduling system. The ability to schedule appointments allowed more people access to testing than an exclusively walk-up clinic.
- Increased safety: 90% of tests offered at the testing sites are booked through Solv. The reduced number of walk-in appointments improves safety by limiting the time community members spend in a potentially dangerous, contagious environment.
- Improved testing experience: Despite the inherent discomfort that comes with nasal swabbing, Montgomery county’s testing sites have achieved an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars. Montgomery county officials use Solv’s advanced reputation management to monitor and respond to consumer feedback, allowing them to fix problems as they arise.
- Lower positivity rate: Throughout the pandemic, Montgomery County’s COVID positivity rate has hovered at about 2.3%. Officials credit widely accessible public testing for keeping this rating lower than the rest of Pennsylvania.
Moving Forward in the Pandemic
- Flu vaccines
Officials expanded COVID testing sites to offer free vaccines for the upcoming flu season. Vaccines were administered by a different team and distanced from the COVID testing sites to avoid potential spread of the virus. To ensure public safety, minimal crowding and the maintenance of social distancing, they offered scheduled vaccination appointments, contactless check-in and registration, and a virtual waitlist through Solv.
On election day, Montgomery county officials launched a “Vote & Vax” drive through flu vaccination initiative using Solv’s booking system, allowing voters to deposit ballots and receive their free flu shot all from the comfort of their cars. They plan to continue rolling out new vaccination initiatives in anticipation of an exceedingly dangerous flu season.
- Site expansion
Montgomery county is currently experiencing a surge in positivity rates, making widely accessible public testing all the more crucial to moving forward. The county recently increased testing hours at four of their six sites. They also plan to increase available tests at each site.
- County Collaboration
Montgomery’s successful implementation of COVID testing initiatives has lead to collaboration with at least one other county.
Want to see how Solv can help you scale up community testing and vaccination initiatives? Click here or scan the QR code below to learn more.