Telemedicine Center Is “Hospital Without Beds”

Posted on September 30, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

You don’t usually read cutting-edge healthcare stories on the CNN Money site, but the following blew me away.  Chesterfield, MO-based Mercy Virtual Care Center is a first, a four-story facility focused entirely on virtual care.

As I’ve noted previously, hospitals seem quite interested in rolling out telehealth services — and virtually all seem to be experimenting with them to some extent — but technology concerns seem to be holding them back. This is happening, in part, because EMR vendors have been slow to integrate telehealth functions.

But this doesn’t seem to have been a problem in this case. The $54 million Mercy Virtual Care Center, which describes itself as a “hospital without beds,” launched in October 2015. It employs 330 staffers focused on a variety of telehealth services, according to CNN Money.

The Center, which calls itself the world’s first facility dedicated to telehealth, offers four programs:

  • Mercy SafeWatch, which the Center says is the largest single hub electronic intensive care unit in the nation
  • Telestroke, which offers neurology services to emergency departments across the country which don’t have a neurologist on site
  • Virtual Hospitalists, a team of doctors seeing patients within the hospital around the clock using virtual care technology, and
  • Home Monitoring, a service which provides continuous monitoring more than 3,800 patients

Center medical director Gavin Helton told CNN Money that the programs it runs are focused on cutting down the cost of care reducing the admissions. “The sickest 5% of patients are typically responsible for about half of the healthcare spend and many end up, unnecessarily, back in the hospital,” he told the site. “We need an answer for those patients.”

One activity run by the Center is a pilot program focused on remote care for patients in their homes. The initial phase includes 250 patients with complex chronic illnesses for whom care is not readily accessible.

For example, one patient enrolled in the program is Leroy Strubberg, who is recovering from three mini strokes and also has heart problems, CNN Money reports. Strubberg, who lives more than an hour away from parent hospital Mercy St. Louis, participates in the Center’s in-home care program, speaking with Virtual Care staff members twice a week.

The staffers, dubbed “navigators,” call him on his hospital-provided iPad and ask him about his status. They also encourage his wife to use a blood pressure cuff and other devices connected to the iPad to check his health.

Since Strubberg enrolled in the program, Mercy Virtual Care clinicians were able to help him avoid hospitalization twice while providing him with appropriate care, the article says.

All of this would be exciting regardless of how it played out, but the fact that seems to be successful at managing care effectively is an added bonus. Mercy told the site that the Virtual Care program has cut emergency department visits and hospitalizations by 33% since the program opened just under a year ago. They attribute their success, in part to seeing that the patients usually see the same navigator, as well as working closely with the patient’s primary care physician.