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MedStar Health, Intermountain, and Stanford Medicine Expand AHRQ-funded Telehealth Study

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   September 28, 2022

The three health systems are expanding their study on telehealth use for primary care during the pandemic to examine how connected health platforms can address the access needs of people with chronic conditions and other vulnerable populations.

Three major health systems are expanding an ongoing digital health partnership to create a patient safety learning laboratory aimed at improving telehealth access for those with chronic care needs and other vulnerable populations.

MedStar Health, Stanford Medicine, and Intermountain Healthcare are launching the program with support from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and will continue to work under the Connected CARE (Care Access Research Equity) & Safety Consortium, expanding the initial focus on primary care.

The announcement comes on the heels of a study recently published in npj Digital Medicine, in which the three health systems used an AHRQ grant to analyze how telehealth was used during the pandemic to improve primary care access and use.

“Our initial research demonstrates that telehealth is delivering on its promise to provide accessible and effective care,” Raj Ratwani, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs for the MedStar Health Research Institute, director of the MedStar Health National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare, and co-principal investigator for both grants, said in a press release. “Thanks to the continued support of AHRQ, we will advance patient safety nationally by studying and scaling telehealth as a proactive safety tool while also enhancing its safe use within the diverse communities served by connected care.”

That study drew on data from more than 4.1 million in-person and digital health adult primary care visits at the three health systems in 2019-2021, as well as data from payers.

“While we expected to see variability in telehealth use in primary care, we were interested to learn that those patients with chronic illness and frequent primary care needs consistently replaced one to two visits per year with a telehealth visit,” Ethan Booker, MD, MedStar Health's chief medical officer of telehealth, the study co-author, and co-principal investigator for both grants, said in the press release. “This finding underscores our entry into a new era of chronic care, as telehealth helps providers increase access and care continuity for patients who need it most. Given the evidence that telehealth has expanded our care capabilities, we believe federal and state legislation and regulations should continue to protect telehealth access.”

The new project will focus on four insights gleaned from the earlier program:

  • Proactive opportunities to advance safety and health through telehealth are powerful;
  • Process optimization remains as essential to safety as technology enhancements;
  • Personalization of telehealth technology use serves as a key to both safety and health equity; and
  • Provider wellbeing is an urgent priority for patient safety as care becomes more connected.

"They will study the care continuum tied to outpatient settings more holistically, with special attention to chronic care and health equity," the press release noted. "To consider safety solution design, development, and implementation, they will also collaborate with experts at Microsoft Research and virtual care platform-as-a-service provider Bluestream Health, and with health equity and patient and family advisors."

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


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