The Sisters of Mercy Health System in Chesterfield, Missouri has officially broken ground on the nation’s first dedicated virtual care center. The four-story building will house nearly 300 clinicians, researchers and support staff whose entire mission will be focused around delivering care through audio and video conferences. Mercy anticipates that the center will handle more than three million virtual visits over the next five years, and plans to have the facility open at some point in 2015.
“Telemedicine lets us provide the best possible care to people where and when they need it – even when patients wouldn’t otherwise have access to specialists, such as neurologists and pediatric cardiologists,” said Lynn Britton, Mercy president and CEO. “The center will bring together the nation’s best telehealth professionals to reach more patients, develop more telemedicine services and improve how we deliver virtual care through education and innovation.”
The $50 million investment will serve as the central hub for all of Mercy’s telehealth programs, including its electronic ICU, which provides continuous monitoring through audio and visual connections to critically ill patients. Nurses scan streams of data for changes in vitals that may signal a sudden turn in a patient’s condition and provide remote care when attending physicians are unavailable. The virtual care center will also help to centralize the health system’s other telehealth initiatives, including the twenty-four-hour telephone triage service, home monitoring programs for cardiac patients, remote radiology and pathology services, and a pediatric cardiology team that quickens turnaround for test results.
Other programs that will reside at the virtual care center include the telestroke initiative, which provides expert neurology consults for stroke patients that arrive in emergency rooms without a specialist on hand. Telestroke programs are especially critical for patients in rural or remote areas, since outcomes often rely on how quickly treatment can be delivered.
“There’s a decreasing number of physicians in both rural and urban areas, while at the same time there’s a growing senior population that will require more care,” said Dr. Tom Hale, executive medical director of Mercy’s telehealth services. “Telemedicine will have a significant impact by letting virtual physicians and nurses be the first point of triage and care for patients in the hospital, emergency room or even at home. Mercy’s virtual care frees up physicians while also attending to patients faster than before, and our specialists bring a level of expertise that would be impossible to share without telemedicine.”
“With a decade of telemedicine experience behind us, Mercy is now a recognized leader in this vital health care field,” added Britton. “We’ve pioneered a telehealth plan that no longer limits advanced care because of age, illness or geography. We can deliver a higher level of care to more people, and the virtual care center is at the heart of it – providing care for today while also developing the health care of tomorrow.
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