07 May Preparing for Liftoff
Soon after the initiation of virtual urgent care video visits through Beacon Connected Care in January 2017, Beacon Health System began a pilot program to bring its own physicians and providers onto the secure, web-based telehealth platform.
Currently, as systems for scheduling, billing and electronic health record integration are being mapped out, the first group of Beacon Medical Group providers are training on the platform to prepare for scheduled visits with established patients. As the project moves forward in the coming months, more BMG providers will join the platform with these early adopters.
Brett Belock, Beacon Health System Innovation Project Consultant, is working closely with the providers through the prototyping process for developing potential use cases for their practices. If the group believes the use cases are sound and could prove valuable to other providers, staff and patients, they will be scaled up through the rest of the health system. Part of Belock’s role is to help the group get comfortable with change.
“With this project, we’re working with both the dynamic nature of technology and the dynamic nature of the health care industry,” explains Belock. “We need to be agile in that new future, to get used to change and adapting. Adapting to change is going to be the new normal.”
Along with the anticipated benefits of convenience and access for patients that telehealth visits will provide, the emphasis of the work of this early adopter cohort will be developing ways to use the telehealth platform to improve practice life.
“This process is unique in that we are leaving it to the physicians and providers to explore the benefits of using the platform – they are doing the discovery themselves,” says Belock.
Telehealth Pioneers in the Virtual Landscape
Mark Schmeltz, DO, family medicine physician and co-chair of the Beacon Health System Telehealth Committee, is eager to implement telehealth in his practice.
“I always want to be ahead of the curve and not playing catch-up,” he explains. “From establishing a patient-centered medical home, implementing electronic health records and now immersion in telehealth, I’ve always been happy to be an early adopter.”
Conducting virtual house calls, acute care visits and managing patients with chronic conditions are just a few of the ways Dr. Schmeltz anticipates using the platform.
“I want to be able to connect with patients in whatever way they want to connect with me – that’s part of that patient-centered approach,” he adds.
Laura Jordan, MA, RD, CDE, believes that the demand for telehealth visits for nutrition counseling and education will grow over the next several years, becoming mainstream.
“Since I’m not performing clinical tasks to diagnose patients, it is not necessary for us to be physically together,” she explains. “We are an on-the-go society that looks for convenience in all things that affect us. Telehealth visits provide a great option for those who may work out of town or can’t get away to make an office visit.”
In the spirit of adapting to a virtual work environment, Scott Eshowsky, MD, and Dale Patterson, MD, used the Beacon Connected Care platform for a discussion with Physician Quarterly.
“I think being a part of the rising tide of telehealth is where we want to be as a health system, to position ourselves as the go-to expert in the marketplace,” says Dr. Eshowsky. In family medicine, he expects that the most important use cases for the technology will be for following up with patients who have chronic illnesses, including behavioral health issues.
Dr. Patterson views the early adoption of the telehealth platform as essential for residents and faculty of the Memorial Family Medicine Residency program to be on the cutting-edge of providing health care.
Noting that very few residency programs are currently teaching telehealth, Dr. Patterson anticipates the technology will be helpful in several scenarios. One example is the ability for residents to consult in real time with the supervising physician – no matter the location of either party – using secure video during a patient visit, sharing secure images or clinical findings that can’t be described over the phone. He also sees telehealth technology as being helpful to residents caring for patients in extended-care facilities.
“I see a huge opportunity if we could put this technology into the hands of nurses who need to contact us at 2 a.m. when something doesn’t look right to them,” Dr. Patterson explains. “We would be able to see and talk to the patient and the nurse immediately.”
The Beacon Medical Group early adopters anticipate rapid growth of telehealth within the next three to five years, saying that it will become a part of daily practice life and workflow.
“Ultimately, telehealth has the potential to help reduce the overall cost of care as providers can more effectively engage with patients across the health care continuum,” says Dr. Eshowsky.
“We’re trying to pave the way and gain experience in telehealth with the intention of working with our local physician partners and colleagues to see if we can spread this technology across the region,” he adds.