Providence St. Joseph launches telemedicine network
Providence St. Joseph Health launched its telemedicine network that will deliver acute stroke, mental health, direct-to-consumer and after-hours care to more than 100 facilities across the Western U.S., the integrated health system announced Monday.
Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph's Virtual Health System connects consumers and providers through 50 programs led by 1,500 caregivers. It will help increase access in remote areas, ease the burden on perpetually overcrowded emergency rooms and improve mental health and stroke treatment, which is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, executives said.
"Physicians and specialists want to preserve relationships with their patients and communities want their local healthcare infrastructure to survive in a world of rapid change," Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, said in a statement. "PSJH Virtual Health System acts as a health connector."
Thirty of the participating facilities are not part of Providence St. Joseph Health.
The telehealth system will provide around-the-clock access to stroke specialists with an average response time of less than three minutes. Providence St. Joseph's psychiatrists also will be on call to help diagnose patients, which will reduce emergency department use and length of stay, the company said.
Providence St. Joseph's telehospitalist service will provide initial patient exams, electronic medical record reporting and virtual after-hours monitoring to mitigate staffing shortages and expedite care.
The health system will also offer same-day virtual and in-person appointments in California, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Its app allows users to schedule an appointment, view health records and message their provider. The direct-to-consumer platform is also available through kiosks in the Portland International Airport in Oregon and near the emergency department at Providence Centralia Hospital in Washington. In addition, Providence St. Joseph has a patient engagement center that links patients to doctors, classes, products and other content.
The health system, which has 51 hospitals and more than 800 facilities across seven states as well as its own health plan, recently embarked on a new strategic direction that involves extending its ambulatory network, divesting non-core assets and bolstering its digital capabilities, among other initiatives.
Other large integrated health systems like the 22-hospital Intermountain Healthcare have rolled out similar asset-light, scalable telehealth networks. Providers said telemedicine has been a critical tool to increase access in rural areas, particularly where hospitals have closed or eliminated services. These partnerships can also boost admissions and help train physicians in vulnerable rural hospitals that have watched their volumes steadily decline and have difficulty recruiting doctors.
The substantial capital required coupled with limited reimbursement has deterred significant investment in telemedicine, especially for smaller providers that predominantly rely on fee-for-service operations. Incremental improvements like the Chronic Care Act, which expands the services Medicare will reimburse for, have helped, but there is still more ground to cover, experts said.
"It's a game-changer economically," Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison told Modern Healthcare during a recent interview. "We can keep patients at home or in their local hospital, which improves outcomes and allows rural hospitals to focus on their key functions."
Telemedicine is a relatively untapped market that has significant growth potential, research shows. The Advisory Board Co.'s Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey found that more than three-quarters of nearly 5,000 respondents would see a doctor virtually, while less than 20% already have used telehealth solutions.
As consumers increasingly shop for convenient, affordable healthcare—and as payers' interest in low-cost access keeps growing—consumers will prefer virtual visits for specialty and chronic care, said Emily Zuehlke, a consultant for the Advisory Board's Market Innovation Center.
"Direct-to-consumer virtual specialty and chronic care are largely untapped frontiers," she said.
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