HealthLeaders offers 4 essential articles detailing how 5 health systems have accelerated their virtual care initiatives during the pandemic.
Between mid-February and April, healthcare innovation was happening everywhere at a rate and scale never before experienced. New ideas were quickly greenlighted; funds were released to purchase new technology; and staff members were reassigned to deliver care in new ways. In this wellspring of ingenuity, one innovation was ready to break loose: telehealth.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., HealthLeaders has been talking to hospitals and healthcare systems as they ramped up or launched their telehealth initiatives. These articles take an in-depth look at best practices and lessons learned from a variety of organizations across the United States including Intermountain Healthcare, MarinHealth, MedStar Health, OSF HealthCare, and UW Health.
This article takes a deep look into how COVID-19 transformed healthcare delivery through telehealth at three health systems: MedStar Health, UW Health, and Intermountain Healthcare.
- Like many health systems experiencing the "instant" acceleration of virtual care, MedStar Health has been involved in telehealth initiatives for years. The health system experienced the same barriers to adoption that inhibited widespread use of the practice across the rest of the country: physician skepticism, minimal consumer awareness, lack of sufficient reimbursement, and licensing issues. As the pandemic became a reality, the 10-hospital nonprofit health system serving Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., urgent care visits leapt from 150 to 250 a month to 500 per day. In addition, 2,000 providers were onboarded in a 10-day period to begin providing virtual care patients via 4,000 daily encounters. Training played a key role in the organization's success.
- UW Health used telehealth in a unique way to protect caregivers from unnecessary exposure to the disease and preserve PPE. The Madison, Wisconsin-based health system launched technology to conduct virtual rounds, rolling out the telehealth solution to more than 2,000 physicians in a matter of weeks. The practice that has created numerous advantages for providers and for patients and will continue after the COVID-19 crisis abates.
- Intermountain Healthcare embarked on a "Herculean effort," to accelerate the practice of virtual care during the pandemic, according to Brian Wayling, MBA, assistant vice president of telehealth services. These endeavors by the Salt Lake City-based health system included purchasing 600 computer tablets for virtual rounding, and expanding telehealth access and training to an estimated 2,000 physicians, 2,000 nurses, 1,000 APPs, 500 nursing assistants, and 300 behavioral health clinicians. Altogether, by the beginning of June 2020, the health system surpassed a million telehealth interactions. The new technology has spawned creative new applications for virtual care, including video handoffs between the emergency room and critical care units.
A look at OSF HealthCare's digital strategy provides a glimpse "into the way healthcare will be delivered in the future," says Michelle Conger, chief strategy officer for OSF HealthCare and chief executive officer for OSF Saint Gabriel Digital Health. "Unfortunately, it came through a pandemic, but it's opening everyone in the system up to what's really possible to meet people where they are at home, and how we can help people stay healthy and navigate the healthcare system in a seamless fashion. "The Peoria, Illinois, healthcare system turns to digital innovations to better serve patients and protect its employees with an approach that included an AI chatbot, a texting solution, pandemic health workers, and home-based care with remote monitoring.
MarinHealth has flipped the model on virtual care. Rather than using this mode of care to treat patients remotely, the 235-bed independent California hospital is using this approach inside the facility to minimize staff exposure to inpatients with COVID-19 and conserve personal protective equipment (PPE). More than 90 hospital rooms have been outfitted with special equipment that enable physicians, nurses, and other personnel to deliver much of the patient's care virtually from stations throughout the facility.
Plastic surgery may seem an unlikely specialty for telehealth, yet due to the public health crisis, MedStar's Michael Reilly, MD, adapted to this new form of practice practically overnight. Because of his profession, Reilly had never considered telehealth a viable practice option; he has since become a fan. He shares a specialist's perspective, detailing the advantages telehealth offers, and cites pitfalls other physicians can avoid.
Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.