Intermountain Healthcare sprints into centralized telehealth

The pandemic necessitated quick expansion of the system’s use of virtual care, resulting in gaining efficiencies and improvement in care.

The COVID pandemic compelled many healthcare organizations to instantaneously prioritize telehealth. This initial push has been a boon to many care teams and spurred further innovation for many health systems.

Emerging innovation is prompting organizations to seek out best practices for remote care. Intermountain Healthcare, which had been taking slow, steady steps into telehealth, learned valuable lessons as it accelerated virtual care as a result of the pandemic.

In a presentation from the HDM KLASroom, Amy Rosa, who was system vice president and chief nursing information officer at Intermountain, and Wendy Deibert senior vice president of clinical solutions at Caregility, reviewed the integrated delivery system’s rapid deployment of their virtual patient-observation program and possibilities for further expansion of telehealth.

Intermountain Health

“We were using telehealth before COVID, but we were creeping along, and it wasn't a top priority,” says Rosa, who now is principal consultant for Health Care Program Advisors, an Atlanta-based consultancy. “That flipped on a dime.”

Challenges of virtual care

Intermountain’s biggest and most urgent problem was that of patient visualization. COVID had forced Intermountain to place many patients in areas of the hospital not set up for visibility – it created a stopgap system using baby monitors to keep an eye on patients, but the system was running out of those devices. The patient-to-provider ratio had increased, and burnout had risen dangerously.

Intermountain’s leaders quickly leveraged its relationships and found a vendor partner in Caregility. Rosa asked Deibert how soon Intermountain could go live with Caregility’s patient-observation solution. “Eight hospitals across two states, and we even pulled it off in about four weeks,” Deibert says. “We all had to come together. It was great watching things evolve over time.”

“We were originally utilizing patient sitters in a lot of cases, and on a one-to-one basis,” says Rosa. But Caregility’s technology enabled one person to watch multiple patients and their vital signs virtually. “Now, one person can have eyes on 12 patients at a time, and that has brought major relief to our resourcing crisis.”

Expansion potential

Since that successful deployment, Intermountain has added virtual-nursing use cases and plans to expand their telehealth programs even more in the future.

“We had to assess where we should start — where we were getting the most bang for our buck — and we decided that it was in our ICUs,” Rosa says. “And then, we went back to the caregivers and said, ‘Hey, now that you know what the possibilities are, this is what we're thinking. You tell us how we could use a virtual nurse in your environment.’ They gave us some great ideas.”

Deibert has seen many other emerging use cases for telehealth. “Some 80 percent to 90 percent of what anybody does within the patient care realm can be done virtually now,” she says. “I could do medication verification and not have to physically walk into the room. I could do an admission assessment because I have a Bluetooth stethoscope and can listen to heart and lung sounds from a distance. All of these new technologies are opening up the gates to all types of ways we can help augment patient care.”

In-hospital applications of virtual care aren’t the only programs reducing the load for the healthcare workforce. Deibert notes that many other use cases are popping up to facilitate at-home care, thereby lowering hospital volumes and cutting workloads for hospital care teams.

“CMS came out with a grant called ET3, which is Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport Model,” Deibert says. “Hospitals can send an ambulance out and do a virtual visit right there in the patient's home before transporting the patient (to a facility).”

Deibert suggests that provider organizations that want to expand their use of telehealth follow are likely to be successful if they try to solve one problem at a time.

“You start small — everybody does — and organically grow, based on the pain points that you're having. You solve those pain points. And your ideas for innovation just start growing more and more, so that you can see the bigger picture.”

Watch the Intermountain Healthcare session video or explore the full HDM KLASroom on-demand video series.

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