New York system expands telehealth with a surprising partner

The University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center recently partnered with multiple technology companies to install virtual care stations around the community with a nontraditional partner.


"There's a lot of evidence to support the use of telehealth in community-based organizations like libraries, barbershops, community centers, churches," said Michael Hasselberg, PhD, chief digital health officer, during an episode of the "Becker's Healthcare Podcast." "However, beyond doing those in a pilot, those sites are really difficult to scale for a health system because as a health system, we have to put resources on the contracting and negotiating side with every single library, every single community center. They're all standalone entities in various towns."

Retailers are also moving into healthcare and some systems are working with Walgreens, CVS and more to install clinics. But, Dr. Hasselberg said, retailers have a primary focus on selling products and struggle to generate enough volume to offset lost revenue by using space for healthcare delivery instead of selling products.

"Retailers, despite having great access points, have struggled on the financial side," said Dr. Hasselberg. "We've really had to go back to the drawing board and [consier], what are out in these rural communities? When you think about them, you've got Main Street, you've got traffic lights, you may have a dollar store, and you have a bank."

Banks have a "branch distribution model" so the health system only needs one contract within the main bank and then could install stations at other branches across the region. Banks also don't sell products like retailers, so they see their space differently. The brick-and-mortar banks are a community institution and still a hub in small towns.

"It's actually part of the financial liability of that community because the small businesses in those towns need to drop off their deposits and at that brick-and-mortar bank typically on a daily or weekly basis," said Dr. Hasselberg.

When banks leave, predatory lenders move in and wreak havoc on small businesses, adding to poverty in the town.

"Banks are trying to essentially reinvent themselves and trying to figure out how can they generate foot traffic back into those brick-and-mortar locations. When we approached the community bank that we're partnered with, which is called Five Star Bank, and posed the idea of, 'Hey, we would live to partner with you and deliver healthcare services into your bank location,' they were just as excited as we were."

Dr. Hasselberg said since launching the partnership, several health systems around the U.S. serving rural populations have connected with him to scale a similar model. URMC worked with Verizon, DexCare, Modivcare, Higi Health and more to develop the virtual care stations. In February, the health system launched its pilot with three rural communities, installing Higi Telehealth-Enabled Smart Stations to measure health indicators, including blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

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