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5/14/2014
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Mercy Health Breaks Ground On Virtual Care Center

Four-story 120,000-square-foot building will be first in the nation dedicated to telemedicine and remote monitoring programs, says Mercy Health.

Healthcare Social Networks: New Choices For Doctors, Patients
Healthcare Social Networks: New Choices For Doctors, Patients
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Having rapidly grown its family of telemedicine services over the last eight years, Mercy Health is breaking ground on what it calls the first dedicated Virtual Care Center in the US, a $50 million building scheduled to open in 2015 where 300 doctors, nurses, specialists, and support staff will work solely on remote patient care.

Mercy estimates that the center will manage more than 3 million telehealth visits during the next five years, with a broad, possibly international geographic reach. A ground-breaking ceremony was held Tuesday for the four-story, 120,000-square-foot center in Chesterfield, Mo. The center will help Mercy expand the family of services that started in 2006 with the SafeWatch remote-monitoring service for intensive care units. Intensive care doctors, known as intensivists, are in short supply, but through video consultation, those on staff at the Mercy St. Louis hospital can make their expertise more broadly available. Nurses and other specialists provide additional remote support.

[Do providers fear getting short-shrifted? Read Donna Shalala: Distrust Hobbles Health Data Sharing.]

"We are the back-end support for bedside care," says Wendy Deibert, a senior member of the nursing staff who was one of the original members of the SafeWatch team. She now serves as vice president of Mercy Telehealth Services.

With access to a remote hospital's electronic health records system and monitoring devices at the bedside, "we're able to be the data miners and trenders [as to what is] going on," she tells us. Onsite nurses are needed as much as ever to attend to a patient's immediate physical needs, like assisting someone who needs help getting up to go to the bathroom. However, telemedicine gives onsite caregivers access to expertise they would not have otherwise, particularly in rural hospitals.

Dr. Sangita Aradhyula and Dr. Ashok Palagiri monitor a patient hundreds of miles away at Mercy SafeWatch in St. Louis, the nation's largest single-hub electronic intensive care unit.(Source: Mercy Health)
Dr. Sangita Aradhyula and Dr. Ashok Palagiri monitor a patient hundreds of miles away at Mercy SafeWatch in St. Louis, the nation's largest single-hub electronic intensive care unit.
(Source: Mercy Health)

The same principle extends beyond the ICU. For example, Mercy's Telestroke service makes a neurologist available to quickly assess the condition of a patient in a remote emergency room to determine whether that person has suffered a stroke and, if so, order the appropriate treatment. With a device such as an iPad, the physician can perform the diagnosis from home or the office, without necessarily having to come into the hospital.

Receiving a stroke diagnosis quickly, even if no local neurologist is available to make it, is critical because studies have shown stroke survival and recovery improve dramatically if a diagnosis is made within three to four hours. With a high-resolution video and access to the EHR, a doctor can see the dilation of the patient's eyes, review vital statistics, and make the right judgment --

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David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and ... View Full Bio

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Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2014 | 1:53:58 AM
A new way of doing business
This is something that almost had to happen. As medical knowledge accrues, each specialist will have to have his or her focus more narrowly defined in order for everything to be covered to maximum depth. Unless you live in one of the great urban centers, there can't possibly be enough of these ever more specialized specialists available to meet the whole gamut of possibilities. Legislation will be needed to cover licensing, and standards need to be established so that disparate hospital systems can communicate with each other.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2014 | 7:18:29 PM
We don't yet know how well it may be applied
This has to be how medicine evolves, and hopefully, the cost of health care comes down. It will of course need to be carefully coordinated with on-the-scene, bedside observations and diagnosis, but the availability of tele-healthcare centers could change the lives of millions of people.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2014 | 10:31:40 AM
Will telemedicine go national?
Will be interesting to see whether the barriers to interstate telemedicine practices come down. May require federal legislation and getting agreement on what the rules should be will be really difficult. I get the sense that's beyond what anyone's seriously attempting, so far.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2014 | 10:14:32 AM
Start of a Trend?
This is fascinating -- and I wonder whether other healthcare providers will follow suit and create dedicated telemedicine centers? You can certainly see the payoff for providers and patients: Much faster treatment for non-emergency care, leaving ERs open for true emergencies. Now more insurers cover this type of service, you'd imagine video-based treatments would become increasingly popular for patients and practitioners. 
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