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Mary Free Bed Hospital Adds Telemedicine to Improve Care Coordination

Michigan's Mary Free Bed Hospital is using a video-based telemedicine platform to improve care management and coordination, both during the admissions process and for post-discharge care.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- With a new telemedicine platform, Michigan’s Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is looking to take the “physical” out of physical rehabilitation.

The 167-bed hospital, based in Grand Rapids, offers acute care inpatient services for children and adults who have experienced a brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, amputation or other injury or illness requiring physical rehabilitation. Mary Free Bed is at the head of a connected care network comprising more than 30 hospitals around the state.

The challenge lies in engaging with potential patients and their care team before they’re admitted to the hospital, and in coordinating care with specialists during and after their stay. And that’s where the hospital’s new virtual care platform comes in.

“There’s a big difference between what you’d see on paper and what’s happening at the moment,” says Jason Peoples, the hospital’s Virtual Health Developer. With a telemedicine connection, “physicians have a chance to lay their hands – virtually – on a patient and ask questions. It changes the way we can deliver healthcare.”

For a hospital with a complex patient population, and where the average stay is 16 days, it’s important to make sure patients and their care teams are properly evaluated before they’re transported to Mary Free Bed. Peoples says the virtual platform developed by Synzi and integrated into the admissions process gives physicians a better idea of who they’ll be admitting, and it gives patients a better idea of where they’re going.

“We’re excited about how this platform will create more efficient clinical communication across our rehabilitation system,” Kent Riddle, the hospital’s CEO, said in a September press release announcing Mary Free Bed’s partnership with Synzi. “Enabling our staff to easily communicate with patients on their devices they use every day is another huge benefit.”

Riddle said the hospital was looking for connected care platform that would streamline workflow and improve communications. Along with improving referral review and admissions, the platform enables the hospital to create patient care programs and message templates for communication via e-mail, SMS/text and virtual visits.

Mary Free Bed is one of many US hospitals looking to implement a video-based telehealth platform to improve care management and coordination – for both their patients and providers. A virtual platform takes away the challenges of geography and enables providers and patients to connect at any time and place.

For example, Mary Free Bed physicians can connect with patients and their care teams at any health system looking to refer a patient to the hospital. The platform eliminates the need for physicians to rely on a written patient summary (or, in some cases, sending a nurse to that hospital), and gives both patient and provider the opportunity to determine whether a transport is the best care option.  

“We’re trying to take the physical piece out of physical care,” says Peoples. “This really puts us on the path to on-demand care.”

The platform offers other benefits as well. It enables Mary Free Bed physicians to connect with specialist at other hospitals – such as Shriner’s or the May Clinic. And it creates a care platform so that physicians can keep in touch with patients post-discharge, to make sure the care plan is being followed and to avoid any preventable readmissions.

Peoples sees that collaboration going even further. A virtual care platform, he says, could include access to nutrition services, medication management, chronic care coordination, DME and prosthetics suppliers, even mental health specialists.

“Only 10 percent of the post-acute space is using telehealth, and most of that is in skilled nursing facilities,” he says. “I can see a lot of opportunities here. I hear that we can’t do things and I think, well, I think we can.”

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