Intermountain Healthcare, the largest health system in Utah and a progressive user of digital healthcare technology, is opening its version of a digital hospital.
A digital hospital is a new trend among a growing number of big health systems such as Mercy Health in St. Louis, which is spending $54 million over time to run and expand Mercy Virtual, and Humber River Hospital in Toronto, which operates a NASA-like command and control computer center aided by analytics and pill-dispensing robots to monitor and care for patients.
In Salt Lake City, Intermountain Healthcare’s version of a digital hospital is beginning with the consolidation of 35 telehealth programs into new program called Connect Care Pro. The new “virtual center” will provide basic medical services such as for walk-in clinic types of treatment and for advanced services such as for stroke evaluation, mental health counseling, intensive care and newborn critical care.
Virtual hospitals, which essentially are telehealth centers for delivering digital provider consultations and remote patient monitoring, are beginning to emerge in the hospital market as hospitals and health systems look for new ways to deliver care directly to consumers online and use the web to better manage their business. “Everything we are doing with virtual care ties to a foundation and part of that foundation is the shift away from fee-for-service to value-added care,” says Intermountain Healthcare chief information officer Marc Probst.
Intermountain Healthcare is no newcomer to telehealth. In 2016, 4,400 patients used Connect Care, a consumer telehealth service that allows patients to access providers from their computer or mobile devices anytime. In 2016, hospitals throughout the Intermountain system also became connected via telehealth, which now allows specialists to support patients with more “virtual care” in areas such as critical care, stroke, newborn critical care, behavioral health and pediatrics. Telehealth technology also connects Intermountain specialists to seven out-of-system community hospitals in Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.
Connect Care Pro will supplement existing in-hospital care and provide specialized services in rural communities where many advanced care options are not readily available, says Intermountain vice president of outreach services Jim Sheer. In an early use of its new virtual hospital services program, an infant at a southern Utah hospital was being supported via Connect Care Pro and received a critical care consultation that allowed the sick baby to stay in that facility instead of being transferred to a newborn intensive care unit in Salt Lake City. This single avoided transfer would have cost over $18,000 dollars, Intermountain says.
“The parents of this baby were able to remain in their community, surrounded by their support system, instead of traveling what would have amounted to 400 miles and seven hours round-trip every time they wanted to see their baby,” Intermountain says.
All Intermountain Healthcare hospitals including 10 of its rural hospitals will use “virtual hospital” to supplement or add to their existing services, the health system says. Nine hospitals outside the Intermountain Healthcare system such as Kane County Hospital, a 38-bed hospital in Kanab, Utah, have signed up to use Connect Care Pro to diagnosis and treat mental health patients.
Going forward Intermountain Health will expand Connect Care Pro through web-enabled patient kiosks or other devices in locations such as homeless shelters, schools, community centers, and perhaps jails, the health system says.
Intermountain Healthcare and its launch of a virtual hospital program is early on to a trend more hospitals and health systems will follow for patient care, business and marketing reasons, says Dan D’Orazio, CEO of healthcare research and consulting firm Sage Growth Partners in Baltimore.
Hospitals historically focused on providing the majority of often very expensive care within the confines of their hospital campus and affiliated outpatient facilities. But as more consumers look for more convenient options to regular doctor visits or for easier ways to receive advanced care outside of a traditional hospital, they are looking for more virtual care options such as telehealth.
Hospitals also see more digital care delivery as a new and better way to produce better outcomes and cut costs. For example in Utah, Intermountain Healthcare has already used Connect Care Pro to save more than $2.1 million in unneeded transportation costs by treating ill infants by telehealth and remote patient monitoring, the health system says.
But telehealth and virtual healthcare need to be managed as services through a single program or a designated facility that can grow and manage digital healthcare on a universal basis, which is what organizations such as Intermountain Healthcare, Mercy Virtual and Humber River are looking to do with their virtual medicine infrastructure, D’Orazio says. “This (telehealth) is so nascent it can be decentralized in how hospitals are managing it,” D’Orazio says. “The organizations launching these virtual hospitals are seeing and managing this as a whole new delivery channel.”
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