The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has spun out a specialty telemedicine company focused on infectious disease care, the health system announced Thursday.
The new company—Infectious Disease Connect—formed following the success of UPMC's tele-infectious disease program, which launched in 2013. The telemedicine program connects infectious disease specialists at UPMC with patients and physicians at rural community hospitals for consultation and treatment services.
"For the past five years, we've been receiving a lot of requests from different hospitals in the area to help with their infectious disease needs," said Dr. Rima Abdel-Massih, director of tele-infectious disease services at UPMC. "It got to a point where we were unable to take on all the sites coming to us."
That's when Abdel-Massih, who serves as Infectious Disease Connect's chief medical officer, and Dr. John Mellors, chief of UPMC's division of infectious diseases, approached the health system's innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, about founding a company.
Infectious Disease Connect tackles three main areas: patient care, antimicrobial stewardship and consulting with hospitals about infection prevention and control.
Infectious Disease Connect fills a particular need in the healthcare landscape, according to Abdel-Massih, given a nationwide shortage of physicians specializing in infectious disease. The medical specialty consistently ranks as having one of the highest percentages of vacant positions in fellowship programs, three specialists wrote in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2017.
"The shortage of ID physicians is striking," Abdel-Massih said. "At the same time, there's the emergence of multidrug-resistant organisms, superbugs, infectious outbreaks."
Abdel-Massih said telemedicine helps to decrease the need for a patient to be transferred to another facility if the hospital they're at doesn't have an infectious disease specialist. That not only reduces travel times for patients in remote areas, but also has the potential to improve clinical outcomes, according to a news release from UPMC.
"When someone needs a treatment for an infection, it has to be early on," Abdel-Massih explained.
Since the tele-infectious disease program's launch in 2013, it has helped to reduce patient transfers to tertiary facilities, healthcare-associated infections and antibiotic misuse, according to UPMC.
Infectious Disease Connect is currently staffed by infectious disease physicians at UPMC, who provide services to rural community hospitals in the region. As the company expands into new markets—which Infectious Disease Connect leaders say might include post-acute care or patients at home—it plans to hire additional physicians from outside the UPMC system.
Infectious Disease Connect's initial 15 hospital customers are based in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, but David Zynn, the company's president and CEO, said the team plans to expand nationwide—meaning it will have to be on top of differences in state licensing requirements. "With telemedicine, you've got to be out in front of the licensure rules," Zynn said.
"Our plan is to continue to grow, at first probably more up and down the eastern seaboard, and then eventually nationally," he added.