UPMC launches new telemedicine company focused on infectious disease

Diagnosis and treatment of disease and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is complex and challenging for small hospitals, who could care for patients with remote help from top-tier infectious disease experts.
By Mike Miliard
02:17 PM

Rima Abdel-Massih, MD, director of tele-ID services at UPMC, will serve as chief medical offer at ID Connect.

UPMC has launched a new company, Infectious Disease Connect, that seeks to boost ID services using telehealth technology – helping providers improve outcomes and lower costs by reducing transfers and treating patients in their own communities.

WHY IT MATTERS
UPMC already offers infectious disease services to some patients via telemedicine and has for several years. It enables fewer relocations to tertiary care facilities, helps reduce nosocomial infections and decreases misuse of antibiotics, say UPMC officials – who note that such interventions can also result in shorter hospital stays, lower readmissions and reduced mortality rates for hospitals.

Add to this the fact that there is a shortage nationwide of ID specialists, even as the risks, costs regulatory requirements of infectious diseases and healthcare-associated infections are increasing, and the appeal of telemedicine in this area is apparent, especially as hospitals and health systems aim to succeed in value-based care.

ID Connect, launched UPMC Enterprises, the health system’s innovation and commercialization arm, was co-founded by Rima Abdel-Massih, MD, director of tele-ID services at UPMC, and John Mellors, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, are co-founders of the new company.

The startup already serves 10 UPMC and five non-UPMC hospitals in the Pennsylvania region. As it rolls out, it  will focus first on smaller hospitals with fewer than 300 beds.

"These smaller facilities face an especially difficult time recruiting and retaining already scarce ID specialists," said Abdel-Massih, who will serve as chief medical officer. "ID Connect can cost-effectively provide ID specialists, full-time or part-time, to augment existing staff."

The company will at first be staffed by UPMC-based infectious disease specialists, but as it grows it will be hiring other clinicians for patient consultations, and seeking outside expertise in antimicrobial stewardship and infection prevention and control, according to ID Connect President David Zynn.

THE LARGER TREND
Zynn notes that HAIs affect 5 to 10 percent of patients and can cost hospitals more than $40 million each year. Those cost increases are further exacerbated by unnecessary prescriptions that can cause adverse side effects or contribute to antibiotic resistance.

With many hospitals losing ground in the fight against HAIs, any innovative tool to help in the battle is useful.

As we've been showing during our focus on digital transformation, sing telemedicine to help hospitals more efficiently and effectively treat infection could be a boon for the small providers ID Connect is targeting for its initial business.

ON THE RECORD
"As diagnosing and treating infectious diseases and ‘superbugs’ become increasingly complex, having access to infectious disease experts will be essential for every health care facility," said Zynn. "Created by a health system that has led the way in both managing infectious diseases and implementing telemedicine, ID Connect is well-positioned to effectively serve hospitals and their patients."

"With the growing threat of drug-resistant organisms and costly government penalties for health care-associated infections, it has never been more critical for hospitals to properly diagnose, treat and prevent such infections," said Abdel-Massih. "However, with ID specialists in short supply, many hospitals, especially smaller, community facilities, are struggling to meet this need. ID Connect was created to fill that gap."

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Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

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