St. Vincent telehealth program sees reduced readmissions, big ROI

Bluetooth-capable stethoscopes, allowing doctors to hear heart sounds from across the country, are just one innovation Saint Vincent Health System is using in its new telehealth network, which has reduced hospital readmissions and generated a 100 percent ROI in less than two months, officials say. 

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Polycom, a video conference and communications company, is helping Saint Vincent Health System build a telehealth network with technology that seeks to make healthcare more accessible by visually connecting healthcare professionals and patients in virtual environments across 26 facilities in Pennsylvania.

With the issue of location is eliminated, using video rather than traveling, doctors can see more patients, and patients receive high-quality care with access to the expertise of the best specialists, regardless of physician practice location, officials say.

[See also: Telehealth gains urban oomph.]

Saint Vincent's telehealth program began with a regional telemedicine network that used Polycom video to connect understaffed rural hospitals with remote specialists who consult and assist primary care physicians with evaluations and treatment recommendations.

Its telehealth services include providing cardiology and oncology services to patients in rural areas; collaborative telestroke care and virtual, remote-patient rounds conducted by multidisciplinary teams of specialists. The video technology also supports a bariatric wellness program that educates and treats patients suffering from obesity.

The program achieved a 100 percent return on investment within two months by expanding the reach of Saint Vincent's bariatric services, say Saint Vincent officials.

"Rural medicine is such a challenge due to the distances that must be covered and limited resources," said Philip Wolford, coordinator of Saint Vincent's regional telemedicine network. "Our tele-cardiology program is a great example of how Polycom video collaboration helps us overcome that challenge and has literally changed the way we practice medicine,” Wolford continued. “It is patient-centered care in the purest form. By reducing rehospitalizations, our program is driving costs down for patients and other payers."

[See also: Readmissions have hospitals stymied.]

Saint Vincent's telehealth technologies include Bluetooth electronic stethoscopes that enable clinicians to listen to lung and heart sounds from hundreds of miles away. The health system is also using Polycom Video Content Management solutions to increase multidisciplinary collaboration as another means to improve patient treatment.

"Teams of doctors collaborate remotely on grand rounds, exchanging observations, recommendations, and patient information to improve and accelerate patient care," said Wolford. These grand rounds are recorded, archived and published for staffers to view later on-demand as part of their continuing medical education.

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