LifeBridge Health has joined the ranks of healthcare organizations making a major investment in virtual care. The health system has created a “virtual hospital” which evaluates and in some cases treats patients remotely.
It follows in the footsteps of entities like the Chesterfield, MO-based Mercy Virtual Care Center, a four-story facility which focuses solely on virtual care, and Intermountain Healthcare’s virtual hospital service bringing together 35 telehealth programs.
The $54 million Mercy Virtual Care Center, which launched in late 2015, offers telestroke services, an electronic ICU, remote monitoring for thousands of patients and a team of virtual hospitalists.
The LifeBridge virtual hospital, for its part, is located at LifeBridge’s Sinai Hospital location in Baltimore and is integrated more directly with hospital operations. The program, which was rolled out after pilot testing at its Northwest Hospital facility, includes a hospital-based clinical command center where the care team tracks the number of incoming patients, patient discharges and bed availability across the LifeBridge system.
The virtual hospital delivers patient care through telemedicine services and international clinical call centers. The clinical call centers are staffed with nurses and advanced practice providers licensed in Maryland, while call centers in Manila and Jerusalem answer patient questions, manage prescription refill requests and schedule follow-up appointments and transportation.
Health system CMIO Dr. Jonathan Thierman, who leads the program, reports that center staff currently handle more than 1,000 patient cases per month virtually, according to an article appearing in the Baltimore Business Journal.
Under its virtual hospital model, emergency department providers communicate with patients using a videoconferencing monitor which paramedics bring to patients when responding to calls for medical assistance or when the hospital sends the ambulance to a patient. After conducting the videoconference, providers then treat the patient or direct them to another more appropriate level of care.
Meanwhile, using videoconferencing tools, virtual hospital care providers see and interact with patients while nurses conduct triage screening. The virtual providers can also use portals to request or review tests or lab work, along with accessing nursing notes, making diagnoses and creating treatment plans.
In addition to providing better access to care, this program is improving throughput at both its Sinai and Northwest Hospital locations. In fact, during the Northwest Hospital pilot, overall door-to-provider times fell from an average of one hour and 26 minutes to less than 26 minutes, a 69% decrease, over just a few months.
This looks like a worthwhile alternative to the Mercy and Intermountain programs, which appear to be 100% focused on remote care. Integrating virtual services with day to day hospital services appears to offer some significant and easily-observed benefits. I’d be surprised if other hospitals and health systems aren’t trying out similar approaches elsewhere. (If they’re not, they probably should.)
It is worth noting that while Thierman doesn’t discuss how much it cost to put the virtual hospital infrastructure in place, it probably wasn’t cheap. Still, if this approach continues to have a big impact on efficiency and care delivery, it could pay for itself relatively quickly. The whole thing is worth watching.