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Hospital Uses Telestroke Program’s Success to Branch Out to Other Specialties

St Dominic's Hospital in Mississippi sits at the center of a successful telestroke network serving five hospitals. Now it's launching a telehealth program for behavioral health.

- A Mississippi hospital at the center of s successful telestroke network is expanding its telehealth platform to deliver behavioral health services.

St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson launched its telestroke program in 2012, and now sits at the center of a hub-and-spoke telehealth network that connects with six smaller and more remote hospitals, with a seventh expected to go live in January 2017. With that network up and running smoothly, hospital officials say they want to expand their inpatient psychiatric care services to partner hospitals who need real-time consults.

“Our behavioral health services cover about 80 percent of the state, specializing in acute care for suicidal, homicidal and psychotic patients,” Kim Mathis, director of St. Dominic’s Behavioral Health Center, said in a recent press release. “Even though the program is very successful, we see opportunities for improvement through the use of telemedicine. The objective of the program is ‘Better Care, Faster’ and with telemedicine, we’ll eliminate access delays due to travel and free up valuable time for our counselors.”

St. Dominic built its successful stroke program by laying the ground work with its own staff first, then slowly moving out to other communities. It established a link with a 25-bed critical care hospital 80 miles away, educating staff, EMT providers and residents about the telehealth platform that would provide an immediate link to specialist care for stroke patients in need of critical care.

“It was very abstract to them how this could occur,” Wendy Barrilleaux, St. Dominic’s director of stroke services, told mHealthIntelligence.com earlier this year. “We found that we not only had to teach them what a stroke was and how to recognize it, but then we had to show them” that it could be treated at their own hospital.”

“This wasn’t just dumping a telemedicine cart in the hospital – this was a partnership,” she said.

Once that link was established, St. Dominic set up telestroke services with four more hospitals.

While hospital officials note they sit smack in the middle of “the sickest and saddest state in the country,” with soaring rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, St. Dominic’s telestroke network has helped make the state one of the best-ranked in the American Telemedicine Association’s annual report cards for telemedicine services.

Now the hospital wants to copy that service for residents with behavioral health concerns. As with the telestroke network, they’re partnering with Atlanta-based REACH Health.

“When we launched our telemedicine program four years ago, we had an enterprise approach in mind,” Cris Bourn, St. Dominic’s neuroscience service line administrator, said in the press release. “We anticipated expanding into additional medical specialties, each with unique workflow, data and reporting requirements. With these needs in mind, we selected the telemedicine platform from REACH Health because of its modular design and ability to support the requisites of each service line.”

And they’re picking a hot topic.

Writing in a 2015 issue of Behavioral Healthcare, Rene Y. Quashie, senior counsel for the Washington D.C.-based Epstein Becker Green law firm’s healthcare and life sciences practice, said telemental health services are especially popular these days.

”Many reasons exist for the boom,” he said. “First, telehealth is a good fit for providing mental health services because providers rarely have to lay hands on the patient in conventional face-to-face encounters. Second, telemental health is accepted by a large number of payers as a legitimate use for telehealth - more so than other telehealth disciplines. Finally, patients surveyed have consistently stated that they believe telemental health to be a credible and effective practice of medicine, and studies have found little or no difference in patient satisfaction as compared with face-to-face mental health consultations.”

St. Dominic’s is also following a business model that has proven successful elsewhere – start with one specific need, build that platform and make it work, then look to copy that pattern to meet other needs. A hospital might start with a telestroke platform, then build out services for ICU care, pediatric care, even specialists services like teledermatology or telenocturnal care.

St. Louis-based Mercy Health, meanwhile, has taken that model to the next step. The health system opened Mercy Virtual – described as the nation’s first hospital without beds – in 2015 and now sits at the center of several telehealth networks.

Randall S. Moore, MD, Mercy Virtual’s president, says the hospital is creating telehealth networks that take advantage of each health system’s specialties.

"Virtual care will be critical to the future of health care," he said. "Healthcare providers must provide better quality and higher value to more people. By forming interdependent partnerships without walls, we will evolve healthcare to a new place. Our collaboration with Penn State Health will bring better care to patients everywhere," including Penn State Health’s medical school, cancer institute and children’s hospital.

"The healthcare world we know today is no longer the health care of the future. Virtual care overcomes the barriers that prevent us from delivering the best care to our patients," he added. "Every system in the U.S. brings specific expertise – be it research, intensive care or training clinicians – and by coming together, we believe we can bring that expertise to more people - faster. For patients, it means they get the best care whether they are in a hospital or a clinic or at home, or even away on vacation. It brings care to them where and when they need it."

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