Mercy is changing the game with its $54 million Mercy Virtual Care Center. While the Chesterfield, Mo.-based system offers on-demand video visits, “we don't think it is going to change the health system and the care experience for people nearly enough,” said Dr. Randy Moore, president of the Virtual Care Center.
Instead, Mercy focuses on monitoring and intervening on behalf of the sickest patients both at home and in the hospital. There are no beds or patients at the Virtual Care Center—just nurses, doctors and lots of IT staff sitting behind an array of monitors.
Part of the center is devoted to Mercy SafeWatch, which is connected to more than 500 intensive-care unit beds across the Mercy system and several outside health systems. Clinicians use telehealth technology and data to monitor patients, order bedside care and follow-up.
The results have been astounding, Mercy officials say. The length of stay decreased between 30% and 40%, and 1,000 people who were expected to die went home last year, Moore said.
In another program, teams of trained clinicians at the Virtual Care Center monitor 4,000 beds for signs of sepsis, a leading cause of hospital deaths. Mercy also connects with patients recovering at home and is able to respond to their requests at any time. That's led to a 60% reduction in acute-care services and dramatically improved quality of life, Moore said.
Telehealth isn't about seeing a patient remotely, he said. “It's about seeing a patient much earlier as they start to deteriorate, which opens up simpler, much more effective interventions that are usually less costly, and the person doesn't get the burden of illness.”
Low or no reimbursement for virtual care has long worked against telehealth adoption, but health systems that are capitated or involved in risk-based contracts aren't so worried about reimbursement. “We are already paid a fixed fee, so if we can bring our costs down (through our telehealth programs), and our length of stay while we improve outcomes, we can keep that margin to do other things within our mission,” Moore said.