Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mercy Virtual Care Center In Works, Will Benefit Western Arkansas

Image courtesy of Mercy / A $50 million Mercy Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield, Mo., is under construction. A virtual groundbreaking was held Tuesday, May 13, 2014, at Mercy Fort Smith for the center that will benefit the Mercy system.

Mercy Fort Smith and its regional satellite community hospitals will benefit from a new $50 million Virtual Care Center, the first of its kind in the nation, being built near St. Louis.

A virtual groundbreaking by video was held Tuesday at Mercy Fort Smith’s Hennessy Center with a graphic artist’s digital rendering of the four-story, 120,000-square-foot building at Chesterfield rising up before Mercy president and CEO Lynn Britton and Mercy staff on a big-screen projection.

The new facility will serve as the command center for all of Mercy’s telemedicine programs, a growing list that includes the nation’s largest single-hub electronic ICU, SafeWatch eICU, and 75 other services like pediatric telecardiology, nurse-on-call, telestroke and home monitoring.

“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,” Dr. Tom Hale, executive medical director of Mercy’s telehealth service, stated in a news release.

Dr. Cole Goodman, Mercy Clinic president, said a shortage of physicians is “not just a Fort Smith problem.”

Only one in 10 doctors practice in rural areas, while nearly one in four Americans live in these areas, the release states. Mercy patients in Fort Smith, and at satellite Mercy community hospitals in Booneville, Ozark, Paris and Waldron will be able to take advantage of the virtual care system with nearly 300 highly specialized medical professionals providing care.

Ryan Gehrig, Mercy Fort Smith president, said the “comfort level” among patients with virtual care technology has increased along with the improved performance of Mercy’s network. Cameras and monitors allow physicians to even examine retinas if needed. Mercy estimates the new virtual care center will manage more than 3 million telehealth visits in the next five years.

Hale noted in the release that Mercy’s virtual care “frees up physicians while also attending to patients faster than before.” Before pediatric telemedicine, it sometimes required a week or more to get results of an echocardiogram (images of the heart). A virtual pediatric cardiology team cuts that down to 24 hours or less.

The new virtual care center in Chesterfield is expected to be complete and open in 2015. From 2007 to 2012 the telemedicine monitoring market more than doubled, growing from a $4.2 billion to $10 billion a year operation, the release states.

Likewise, Mercy Fort Smith’s patient numbers increased by an average of 31 patients a day in May compared to the same time last year, Gehrig said. The hospital is full and Gehrig attributed the increase, in part at least, to Arkansas’ “private option expanding health care participation,” he said.

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