- A new telehealth integration partnership spanning more than 700 miles brings together Mercy Virtual of St. Louis and University of North Carolina Health Care (UNCHC), based in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The two organizations announced on Feb. 8 that Mercy Virtual will monitor patients in 28 intensive care units for one of UNCHC’s hospitals. The arrangement is expected to expand over time to additional UNCHC facilities and programs.
“This isn’t just about purchasing telemedicine services; we have been practicing telemedicine for several years,” said Alan Stiles, MD, UNCHC’s senior vice president of network development and strategic affiliation, in a public statement. “We were looking for a way to accelerate the development of a broader array of virtual services for our patients and medical staff. Working in tandem with Mercy Virtual, we believe we can transform healthcare.”
A reciprocal aspect of the partnership enables Mercy Virtual to tap into UNCHC’s medical research and care delivery expertise.
“We speed up the benefits to patients by tapping into each other’s experience,” said Randall Moore, MD, president of Mercy Virtual. “Mercy is building on years of innovations and learnings so UNCHC’s virtual journey to where we are today will be greatly expedited. Our shared experiences will reduce implementation time, costs and risks.”
Moore added that virtual care provides patients with earlier access to necessary care and “breaks down walls between healthcare systems.”
Mercy Virtual’s parent organization, Mercy, owns or manages 34 acute care hospitals and 11 specialty facilities in a service area covering Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. It launched the $54 million Mercy Virtual Care Center in October 2015. The four-story, 125,000-square-foot building houses 330 employees.
“It’s like a hospital without beds,” said Moore at the time of the Virtual Care Center’s opening. “We have the medical team here, but with technology like highly sensitive cameras and real-time vital signs, our providers can ‘see’ patients where they are.”
Installed technology includes a single-hub electronic intensive care unit; high-speed video and data connections to virtual neurologists for telestroke consultations; and virtual hospitalists, who monitor patients around-the-clock and order tests or read results as needed.
Nurses at Mercy Virtual wear scrubs and conduct care as they would at a patient’s bedside, according to a St. Louis-Post Dispatch report. “It’s part of the art of making it work,” said Thomas Hale, MD, PhD, Mercy Virtual’s executive medical director.
Overall, Mercy Virtual was delivering care services to an estimated 600,000 patients across six states prior to the UNCHC agreement.
“This is the future of health care,” said Moore. “Healthcare providers are charged with providing better quality and higher value to more people. By forming partnerships without walls, we can evolve healthcare to a new place. Our collaboration with UNCHC will bring better care to patients everywhere ... Every institution and system across the nation has areas of expertise, and this partnership allows Mercy and UNCHC to bring the best of both organizations to the table to benefit our patients. If we have a one-direction relationship, we miss out on what we or someone else does better than anyone else.”
Photo credits: Mercy Virtual