Highmark Health, AHN subsidiary add virtual ICU services from Mercy

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Highmark Health and its subsidiary, Allegheny Health Network, will be adding intensive care telehealth services to the portfolio of services they offer.

Highmark, a Pittsburgh-based health plan operating in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and AHN—an integrated healthcare system serving the greater Western Pennsylvania region—will contract with St. Louis-based Mercy Virtual's virtual ICU (vICU) program to expand their offerings.

Mercy offers vICU in more than 20 states, and it has evidence to suggest that the approach lowers mortality rates by 35 percent and can reduce time spent in the ICU by 30 percent, compared with predicted lengths of stay, according to Vance Moore, president of Mercy Virtual’s business integration.

Anil Singh, MD, executive medical director of clinical transformation at Highmark and system division director of critical care at AHN, says the new partnership with Mercy Virtual will strengthen the quality, scope and value of the critical care patients receive at AHN’s community hospitals.

In practice, the vICU remotely connects ICU patients with Mercy's Virtual Care Center, where more than 300 Mercy Virtual clinicians monitor patient vital signs continuously via secure, encrypted connections, according to Mercy. The program's two-way high-definition cameras are only activated during patient observations by the Mercy Virtual clinicians and during their engagement with the onsite clinical teams.

"Partnering with like-minded providers who are interested in creating a team-based approach to delivering the right level of care, driven by evidence-based medicine, in a proactive, patient-centric manner is what our leaders envisioned over a decade ago when they first invested in virtual care,” says J. Gavin Helton, MD, president of Mercy Virtual’s clinical integration.

AHN says it plans to launch vICU at its four hospitals—Allegheny Valley, Canonsburg, Jefferson and Saint Vincent—over the next year, beginning at Jefferson Hospital, which will serve as the training site for the other facilities.

"Mercy Virtual and its medical staff have an impressive track record of success in helping hospitals deliver outstanding critical care service to patients, and we look forward to the positive impact this new virtual ICU model will have on the populations we serve," Singh says.

The addition of Mercy’s vICU is the latest in Highmark’s growing use of telehealth, which also includes telemedicine for psychiatry, neurology, dermatology, infectious disease and neonatal care.

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