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Mercy’s Telemedicine Network is Growing

The St. Louis-based virtual care center adds another spoke in Pennsylvania, partnering with Penn State Health, and expects to add more.

By Eric Wicklund

Mercy Virtual’s telemedicine hub has gained another spoke.

The high-tech “hospital without beds” in St. Louis announced a partnership with Penn State Health’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center during last week’s American Telemedicine Association conference. The agreement enables Mercy to help in the monitoring and care of the 551-bed hospital’s ICU patients – and eventually will extend Mercy’s virtual network through the Penn State Health system.

Mercy opened its $54 million, four-story virtual care center last fall, and this February signed a pact to handle eICU services for the University of North Carolina Health Care system. Mercy officials vowed the UNCHC partnership was just the first of many.

“Virtual to us in not a stand-alone,” Randall S. Moore, MD, MBA, Mercy Virtual’s president, said at the time. “It’s an augmentation and an integration of what we do. What if we could do that with 30 other health systems regionally based?”

Moore, who was at the ATA conference in Minneapolis last week to show off Mercy Virtual’s capabilities, sees his facility as the centerpiece of a vast network of health systems. The agreement with Penn State gives Mercy a link to LionNet, Penn State Health’s 14-partner telestroke network covering central Pennsylvania, as well as teledermatology, telepsychology and specialty support and education services.

As with the UNCHC deal, Mercy will first focus on intensive care patients at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center – an area where Mercy has proven its value. Through SafeWatch Critical Care, the 32 ICUs in the six-state, 32-hospital Mercy Health system have seen a 35 percent decrease in patient length of stay and 30 percent fewer deaths, resulting in $40 million to $50 million in savings and, as Moore puts it, “900 people going home who were predicted to die.”

Craig Hillemeier, MD, Penn State Health’s CEO, wants to see those results in his ICUs.

"Virtual care will positively impact our quality, cost and the patient experience across our health system and beyond because it will allow us to identify and meet patients' needs earlier," he said in a press release issued last week by Mercy. "Having this 'second set of eyes' on our most ill and injured patients will identify and meet patients' needs faster, often presenting simpler and less intensive solutions. In the long term, this type of partnership can help address the nursing and physician specialist shortages across the country."

Along with its TeleICU service, Mercy Virtual offers telestroke, virtual hospitalist, intensive ambulatory and care management programs to some 600,000 patients across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas.

With partnerships like UNCHC and Penn State Health, Moore says Mercy aims to create a virtual care platform in one department, such as the ICU, then extend to other departments in the hospital, then outside the hospital and eventually into the home.

"Virtual care will be critical to the future of health care," Moore said in last week’s press release. "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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