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Intermountain Healthcare Launches $49 Telemedicine Visits

By John Commins  
   May 25, 2016

The Salt Lake City, UT-based health system wants to tear down silos that often isolate telemedicine visits from the patient's continuum of care.

Over the past several months, Intermountain Healthcare has quietly rolled out its Connect Care telehealth platform for patients in Utah and Idaho.

Program Medical Director William Daines, MD, says Connect Care clinicians will have access to Intermountain patients' medical files as part of a greater effort to include telehealth in the continuum of care. Daines spoke with HealthLeaders Media. The following is a lightly edited transcript.

HLM: Was Connect Care a soft launch?

Daines: We started a launch with Intermountain employees only. That was February 8. It was a great chance for us to solve a few technology problems, to gauge was general interest would be, and also to make sure that our medical protocols and safety mechanisms were working the way we wanted them to.

Sometime in the middle of March we went live with SelectHealth members, our allied insurance partner. In April we started with our public marketing campaign, which included lots of different advertising channels; print, outdoor, television, radio, digital.

There was also a soft digital campaign that launched at the end of March that was on a few patient-facing websites. We've been slowly over the course of February into April increasing our publicity.

HLM: How did you determine the need for Connect Care?

Daines: We've seen direct-to-consumer telehealth has become a growing part of medicine across the country. Utah and Idaho have been a little bit late to the game. When we gauged public awareness of telehealth with surveys in 2015, we only saw that about 10% of people were even aware of telehealth as a concept.

I would venture that if you went to California or New York or bigger cities you would see that telehealth is already a much more publicly known way of getting medical care.

HLM: Were there specific challenges for telehealth in Utah or Idaho?

Daines: There were a few legislative changes that needed to happen in Idaho to give us the legal groundwork to do telehealth. New developments tend to happen on the East or the West Coast and they make their way to Utah a little bit later. It's not that there was any major obstacle. It's just that none of the major healthcare organizations in Utah and Idaho had taken this step into telehealth yet.

HLM: Does Connect Care have a dedicated staff?

Daines: Currently we have two providers and we have two more in the credentialing process. They are going to be on board quickly. We don't know exactly how big our staff will be when we are 100% operational. A lot of it will depend upon patient demand. Our goal is to have 24/7/365 access with wait times of under five minutes.  

Currently, our internal staff sees patients from 8AM to 8PM Monday through Sunday. We have a backup group of physicians called the Online Care Group. From 8PM to 8AM or if our daytime call volumes exceed what one provider can handle, they're there for backup.

Our goal is as soon as possible to be staffed 100% internally and have all the medical care being provided by Intermountain providers.

We feel strongly about that. We feel Intermountain has strong brand recognition and a long and prestigious dedication to high-quality care.

HLM: Are their special challenges that come with telehealth?

Daines: One of the things we have seen with telehealth is that for the past five or 10 years it's emerged as a new way of accessing care, but it is operating separately from people's normal care providers.

They might have a normal primary care doctor who they see on a regular basis. But when they access a telehealth provider, the primary care provider is not aware of it, the medical records don't get transferred, the telehealth provider can't see what medications the patient is already on. The primary care doctor can't see what medications the telehealth provider prescribes.

I am a big believer in continuity of medical care, but it's impossible to ask one doctor to be available for every patient 24/7/365.

Systems such as Intermountain Health Connect develop channels of communications and shared treatment standards so that if you happen to see one of our providers in urgent care or in one of our emergency rooms or one of our primary care practices there is shared communication between all the providers involved in the patient's care and they are all operating according to shared treatment standards.  

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.

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