Pittsburgh-based UPMC health system this week announced the launch of a telemedicine software company that will help patients reach doctors during off hours. The move is aimed at reducing avoidable hospital admissions among nursing home patients.
The wholly owned UPMC subsidiary, Curavi Health, will provide nursing homes with telemedicine software and equipment so nurses and patients can consult University of Pittsburgh Physicians' geriatricians on evenings and weekends, according to a UPMC statement released Thursday.
“We are providing bedside consultation when (patients) need it most,” said Dr. Steven Handler, Pittsburgh-based Curavi's chief medical and innovation officer and director for geriatric telemedicine programs at the University of Pittsburgh.
Nursing home patients often “have medical problems that occur nights and weekends, and when that occurs there's a limited clinical capacity in nursing homes” to help, Handler said. At those times, nursing homes may unnecessarily transfer the patient to the local emergency room—a costly move that could further harm elderly patients' health, he said.
According to 2013 CMS data, Medicare spent $14.3 billion on inpatient hospital admissions of nursing home patients in 2011. In Pennsylvania, potentially avoidable hospitalizations total 27,000 annually from about 700 nursing homes, costing $220 million, UPMC said in the statement.
Curavi's customers gain access to telemedicine tools such as specialized cameras, a Bluetooth stethoscope, an otoscope for ear exams, an EKG and a scanner for medical records so physicians can better interact with patients and nursing home staff.
Officially launched in January, Curavi so far counts as clients five UPMC nursing homes and two non-UPMC nursing home in Pittsburgh, including Asbury Heights and Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Handler said.
The company's expertise builds off of research by UPMC over the last several years under a CMS Innovation Grant awarded in 2012. The research was aimed at significantly reducing unnecessary hospital admissions and related costs at nursing homes in western Pennsylvania by implementing several “interventions,” including telemedicine. A 2016 report commissioned by the CMS found that the UPMC program reduced potentially avoidable hospitalizations by 27.8% in 2014 compared with 2012, and reduced potentially avoidable emergency department visits by 40% in 2014 compared with 2012.
In the next few months, Curavi plans to roll out consults for additional UPMC specialties such as cardiology, dermatology and geriatric psychiatry, UPMC said in the statement.
The company also plans to expand Curavi nationwide by allowing nursing homes to use their own attending physicians and nurse practitioners for telemedicine consults.
“The average nursing home will pay for this service with the reduction of just one potentially avoidable hospitalization a month,” Curavi President Nicholas J. Kuhn said in the UPMC statement. “For many nursing home staff, patients and families, the peace of mind that comes with the instant availability of this expertise is priceless.”
UPMC, through its commercialization arm UPMC Enterprises, has made several investments in technology companies over the past few years. Earlier this month, UPMC announced it invested in Hilton Head, S.C.-based health insurance technology company Cavulus to help expand its Medicare Advantage plans.