McLaren Health Care in Grand Blanc, Michigan, operates 14 hospital sites covering the care needs for patients across the majority of the state, including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Like other healthcare organizations, McLaren has had difficulty recruiting physician specialists to meet patients’ needs, particularly in the more rural areas of the state.
To combat this challenge, McLaren has implemented what it calls its Clinic to Clinic telehealth service in several of these locations, connecting physician specialists from tertiary sites to patients in the rural sites.
24/7 urgent care
“We also implemented a direct-to-consumer retail program approximately two years ago,” said Cheryl Ellegood, vice president for service lines at McLaren Health Care. “This program offers patients 24/7 access to primary care physicians for urgent care conditions.
“In several of the primary service areas of our hospitals, urgent care is not offered 24/7, which forces patients to go to the ER to have their urgent care issues addressed. This telehealth program was designed to meet the patients’ needs and, in doing so, the volumes grew exponentially, particularly during the pandemic, because patients were fearful to leave their homes to seek healthcare.”
"We developed workflow processes to allow physicians to round on their patients virtually to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus."
Cheryl Ellegood, McLaren Health Care
The telehealth technology and services vendor McLaren used for the pre-COVID-19 period was InTouch. The health system added Teladoc Health and Zoom for Healthcare during the height of the pandemic in order to have platform capacity to meet the organization’s needs.
“To address the needs during the pandemic, we implemented the technology solution with physicians, then developed the workflow process to connect with patients in their homes,” Ellegood explained.
“We spent time with the patients, teaching them the process so that we could ensure a successful patient encounter for them. We also developed workflow processes to allow physicians to round on their patients virtually to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus. We focused primarily on implementing the technology for physicians and their mid-levels.”
Documenting virtual visits
McLaren has not integrated the telehealth platform with its EHRs. For the Clinic to Clinic encounters, the physicians document in their clinic EHR. For the direct-to-consumer program, the physicians document on the telehealth platform, Teladoc.
McLaren was able to stay in very close contact with many of its patients, while several of its physicians’ offices were closed and patients were encouraged by the media to stay at home. Patients reported to McLaren that they were quite pleased McLaren was offering virtual in-home visits.
Year-to-date, McLaren has provided 52,740 Clinic to Clinic telehealth visits.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had 40 telehealth sites operational,” Ellegood said. “Today we have 275. Prior to COVID-19, we averaged approximately 500 monthly telehealth encounters. During COVID-19, we are completing 18,000-19,000 patient telehealth visits per month.”
FCC funding for telehealth expansion
Earlier this year, the FCC awarded $626,328 to McLaren for multiple healthcare provider sites to enhance telehealth connectivity across Michigan, in order to provide safe, high-quality care to patients, including high-risk and vulnerable patients at the Karmanos Cancer Center, and in order to decrease the exposure to all healthcare providers by using multiple telehealth platforms and devices.
“We have expanded our platform capabilities to accommodate the growing requests for telehealth service, purchased equipment to expand the telehealth services in 14 of our hospitals, and deployed multiple tablet devices to allow physician-to-patient communication and family member-to-patient communication on patients in the COVID-19 units,” Ellegood reported.
“We also have deployed multiple tablets to connect patients with chronic conditions to their physicians and caregivers post-hospital discharge to manage their conditions and keep them from making multiple trips to their physician offices or the ER. Again, this is an effort to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19.”