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.

Exclusive: Adventist Health System violated federal law on doc referrals

By: Abraham Aboraya
Adventist Health System violated federal laws on physician referrals, the Altamonte Springs-based health system told bondholders in documents released May 12.
In 2013, Adventist Health System realized the relationship it had with physicians weren’t in full compliance with the Stark Law. That law prohibits physician referrals between entities, such as a physician group referring patients to a hospital, if there is a financial relationship.
From the documents released May 12:
As a part of its compliance activities, the System determined that relationships with certain physicians were not in full technical compliance with the Stark Law and elected to make voluntary self-disclosures to the federal government in 2013. The System is engaged in discussions and is fully cooperating with the Department of Justice on this matter.
Adventist Health System officials declined to be interviewed. But Kevin Edgerton, Adventist Health System’s vice president of marketing and brand strategy, confirmed that the Stark violations are still under discussion with the Department of Justice and hasn’t been settled yet.
In the broader scheme of the health care ecosystem, a Stark Law violation can point to an imbalance in the economics: If doctors are improperly referring patients to Adventist Health System facilities, it can drain patient volume from other facilities in the area. Of course, all that is dependent on where the violations happened, and what kind of violation it is, questions that can't be answered yet.
So what's the potential fallout for Adventist Health System? The likely result is a fine: The question is how big. Reading between the lines of the bond disclosure document, it appears Adventist has at least an idea of what the settlement will cost, but that it could fluctuate.
For example, Adventist Health System West, which back in the 1980s was part of the same company but is now completely separate, on May 3 announced it would pay $14.1 million to settle a Stark Law violation. And a little closer to home, Halifax Hospital Medical Center back in March agreed to pay an $85 million fine to settle Stark Law violations, both of which pale to HCA Holdings Inc.'s $840 million fine in 2000 for Medicare fraud.
Adventist is a nonprofit health system, which owns Florida Hospital and has 43 hospitals in 10 states. Nationwide, it has about 79,000 employees, and Florida Hospital had 17,600 employees in metro Orlando in 2013.

Saratoga And Glens Falls Hospitals Will Study Potential Partnerships

Two hospitals in the Southern Adirondack region have begun discussions to examine possible opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. 
Recently, the Saratoga Hospital Board of Trustees and Glens Falls Hospital Board of Governors agreed to begin to formally look for ways for possible future “alignment and collaboration.”
The two healthcare providers already cooperate in certain areas, including some medical specialties and comprehensive cancer care.
Angelo Calbone, president and CEO of Saratoga Hospital, said part of what’s driving the decision to pursue more options for collaborations are the changes in the way healthcare is delivered as seen on a statewide and national level.
“You know, less inpatinent-centered, the economics of healthcare of shrinking core hospital utilization, and squeezing payment rates.”
Calbone said it made sense for Saratoga Hospital, with 171 beds, to look to its neighbor in Glens Falls.
“We’re not starting with programmatic or specific ideas, it’s more about understanding our communities’ organizations, where are strengthens, where we see our collective futures, and try to develop a relationship and understanding of what we think the best future for both of us may be, then move to specific discussions,” said Calbone.
Dianne Shugrue, president and CEO of Glens Falls Hospital, said that after her organization experienced a more financially difficult 2013, the hospital is looking to the future.
“I’m happy to say that we’ve emerged in 2014 with a very strong operating plan coming to fruition having just posted our fourth consecutive operating game in a row as we finish up our financials for April,” said Shugrue
Over the past year, in addition to hiring new leadership positions within the organization, Glens Falls Hospital has made connections within the Adirondack region by joining the Adirondack Health Insitute, and the formation of Adirondacks ACO, or accountable care organization.
Glens Falls Hospital has 2600 employees and 27 health service locations, and is the largest employer in its region. As it looks for new ways to collaborate and improve, Shugrue said the company and Saratoga Hospital are now at the “beginning of an exploration.”
“They are challenged with the same challenges we are, in terms of the changing healthcare arena,” said Shugrue. “Both of us believe that it is important to our communities that we maintain a local presence for healthcare. We are community hospitals and that’s our mission.”
Discussions will take place throughout the year, and will involve administrators and physicians, as well as community stakeholders in the Glens Falls and Saratoga regions.
In 2013, Saratoga Hospital also opened its Emergent Care Center located off Exit 12 in Malta, a collaboration with Albany Medical Center.