Mercy Me! Prominent health system commits to virtual care

WP_000387This week I was invited to provide a keynote at the Mercy Health System Innovative Care Conference held in Tulsa, OK.  The theme of the conference was “Pioneering a New Model of Care….Together”.  It was the second annual gathering of physicians, clinicians and health executives affiliated with Mercy’s Center for Innovative Care (CIC).

The conference was opened by Mercy System CEO, Lynn Britton.  Earlier in the week, and again at the conference, Mr. Britton announced plans for a $100 million Virtual Care Center to be built near Mercy headquarters in St. Louis.  The Mercy System consists of 30 hospitals in a four state area.  The Virtual Care Center will serve all of them and will also reach out through partnerships with other hospitals, clinics and health companies to bring an amazing array of virtual care services to the region.  This will include tele-radiology, eICU, interpretation and translation services, case management, referral services, and tele-pathology as well as training labs and space for a “practice of the future”demonstration lab.  We learned even more about the center later in the day from CIC directors Dr. Thomas Hale and Dr. Christopher Veremakis.

WP_000384Following comments by Mr. Britton (left), my colleague Jon Linkous (right), CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, provided an excellent update on telemedicine and telehealth services in the US.  The ATA was formed in 1993.  Mr. Linkous said at the time he thought the age of telemedicine was just around the corner.  “It turned out to be a rather long corner”, Mr. Linkous said with a smile.  None-the-less, he provided plenty of proof that the age of telemedicine has finally arrived.  Just one example is telemedicine at the Veteran’s Administration – more than 200,000 video visits and 250,000 store and forward consultations over the last 12 months at some 70,000 patient monitoring sites.  But according to Mr. Linkous, the telemedicine revolution isn’t limited to the VA.  It is gaining momentum all across the private sector too.  Although arcane physician state licensing rules and CMS reimbursement challenges continue to hold the industry back, Mr. Linkous says health reform and the demands to lower costs while providing greater access to many more people will drive demand for telemedicine and pave the way toward removing any remaining obstacles.  Telemedicine will really take off as it increasingly becomes integrated into clinical practice.

imageDuring my keynote which followed Mr. Linkous’s talk, I shared information about innovative best practices from hospitals and clinics around the world, including information on how Microsoft technologies are being used in telemedicine and telehealth.  We also explored how the “consumerization of IT” is driving the demand for telehealth services and some of the ways these services are currently being delivered into patients’ homes and mobile devices. 

I commend the Mercy System for already providing a wide variety of eHealth services to their patients.  The system has really stepped up to do what’s right for patients even when current payment systems don’t always reward such behavior.  It is clear to me that as the healthcare industry goes through all the changes associated with health reform, Mercy will be ready.  As Mr. Britton stated in his opening comments, Mercy has not only attested to Stage 1 meaningful use criteria in all of its facilities, but they are 85 percent ready to meet Stage 2 criteria.  I can’t wait to see what they’ll be doing a few years from now when their Virtual Care Center is up and running at full capacity. 

Bill Crounse, MD        Senior Director, Worldwide Health            Microsoft

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