How UMass Memorial Health Care deployed a successful telehealth strategy

Jackie Drees - Print  | 

As mobile and video-based technologies continue to become more commonplace across industries, their use within the healthcare space continues to increase. More hospitals and health systems are adopting digital care delivery through means such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring.

By implementing a telehealth strategy, UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, Mass., has expanded access to its specialty critical care services including stroke and neonatal intensive care.

During an Oct. 15 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by American Well, Mark Kemp, director of telestroke and teleneurology solutions at American Well, David Smith, associate vice president of virtual medicine at UMass Memorial Health Care, and Teresa Rincon, telehealth director of clinical operations at UMass Memorial Health Care, discussed the health system's partnership with American Well and how it leverages telehealth to expedite care to patients who need it quickly.

"We believe that the key to a successful telestroke program begins with the saying 'time is brain,'" said Mr. Kemp. "Our solution is built around this need to treat the patient just as quickly and safely as possible. The key to this lies in our solution's ability to easily gather all the required caregivers and data as efficiently as possible and provide a platform that supports the necessary communication amongst the team members."

Prior to implementing American Well's telestroke platform, UMass Memorial used a homegrown virtual platform that encompassed 14 different communication systems and 21 unique steps to complete a single virtual consult, Mr. Smith said.

"We knew we had to make a reinvestment, and we had a strong desire to consolidate the number of communication platforms in play and overall the number of steps to complete a consult," Mr. Smith said. "We wanted a device-agnostic platform that would allow our neurologists to become uncoupled from the console workstation and be able to engage in a consult from devices like their smartphones and other smart devices."

Just six months after rolling out American Well's telestroke platform, UMass Memorial completed more than 1,000 telestroke consults. Further, the health system was able to decrease its overall number of communication platforms from 14 down to four and even automate some of the process to reduce the total number of steps involved in a virtual consult from 21 to 13, according to Mr. Smith.

Framework and foundation: How UMass planned for telehealth

While UMass Memorial was able to decrease the number of overall communication systems and virtual consult steps by 70 percent and 40 percent respectively, the health system underwent extensive planning prior to launching American Well's telestroke solution.

When strategizing around the foundation for its telehealth program, the UMass Memorial team emphasized the need to provide safer, timely, efficient and patient-centered care. In addition to choosing the right technology and partner to support its e-consults, remote patient monitoring and virtual visits, the health system built its telehealth strategy with its providers in mind.

"We knew we had to frame whatever we were building around the providers of care; those physicians, nurses, advanced practice providers and pharmacists," Ms. Rincon said.

Gaining buy-in

While getting the providers' support for the telehealth platform was crucial to the success of the overall program, UMass Memorial's virtual care team recognized that every team member involved with the health system's telehealth strategy needed to help drive the initiative.

To ensure systemwide buy-in for telehealth and that the health system chose the right virtual care model, UMass Memorial developed a telehealth integrated work group to help set the guiding principles of the program.

"They're focused on our foundation of patient-centered safe care," Ms. Rincon said. "They help us evaluate risk and strategies as well as prioritize which one of the use cases we'll implement next and in what order we might do so."

The group is comprised of individuals from various UMass Memorial departments, including legal, billing and reimbursement, EHR-build, information systems and clinical.

Partnering with marketing and communications

One UMass Memorial team that became integral to the success of the health system's telehealth strategy was its marketing and communications department. Not only can this group help target which patients may be most receptive to telehealth, but it can also help a health system develop more effective campaigns to promote buy-in within the organization.

UMass Memorial's marketing and communications department helped the telehealth team establish the socialization, brand awareness and applications development of the health system's virtual care services.

"We were able to engage early and often with this group as we began to think about implementing new service lines and how our service lines were existing at new customer sites," Ms. Rincon said. "We wanted to be able to advertise that throughout the community, and the marketing and communications team has been instrumental in making sure that we communicate frequently, appropriately and through the right venues."

Engaging staff with the teleNICU

UMass Memorial's teleNICU program, which aims to alleviate complications associated with the rising pre-term birth rate across the U.S., has helped support patients' immediate access to subspecialty neonatal care despite their geographic location.

To help showcase the health system's teleNICU program prior to its initial launch, the telehealth and marketing and communications departments teamed up in July to conduct a Facebook Live presentation, which captured a live simulation of the telehealth technology being implemented within the labor and delivery department at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital. The social media-based presentation helped UMass Memorial clinical staff familiarize themselves with the new telehealth equipment weeks before the program officially went live.

In addition to the Facebook Live presentation, the health system also rolled out live simulation training to help care teams become familiar with the workflow of the teleNICU program. During the rounds of simulations, UMass Memorial's telehealth implementation team introduced clinical staff to the virtual care workstations for hands-on engagement with the American Well-powered technology.

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