Intermountain's blueprint for reshaping respiratory virus care in 2024

Despite rising respiratory infections nationwide, Kim Bennion, the enterprise director of research and respiratory care at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, is optimistic about what 2024 may hold for respiratory care, thanks in-part to advances in technology like artificial intelligence. The advancements promise to streamline pulmonary care and could eventually be used to also monitor more acute respiratory conditions like COVID-19 or the flu. 

Her optimism for what the technology promises for respiratory care comes as the CDC reports an eighth consecutive week of increasing outpatient visits for respiratory viruses. In a single week alone — the most recent week of CDC data as of Dec. 23 — there were 29,059 hospitalizations for COVID-19 and 14,732 for the flu nationally, according to CDC data. 

Ms. Bennion had retired from a 47-year career in healthcare, but came out of retirement after just two weeks when Intermountain received a $4 million grant to work on a project that would integrate AI technology with pulmonary metrics into an easy-to-use platform for clinicians. 

"Based on some preliminary research that we've done, I think this is going to revolutionize respiratory care," Ms. Bennion told Becker's. "We just want to do the right thing for chronic lung patients."

The goal was to expand the capacity of pulmonary disease navigators who remotely monitor patients to handle more, provide increased 24/7 access to specialists, and get care at the right time in the right location at the lowest cost, she explained. 

So far, the platform has been able to increase the number of patients that can be remotely monitored from 50 per specialist to 250.  

The platform is also one Intermountain has used for diabetes care and heart failure with success. So further customizing it for pulmonary care only made sense, Ms. Bennion said. 

"We're going to provide patients with extremely timely care… we can view about 500 patients' info from a screen, and they'll show up as red, yellow, or green based on the cues of some specific metric," she said. "If their saturation falls to a certain level, they'll show up yellow, or they'll show up red, that says you know we need to get a hold of them right now. They'll have this high touch personalized care."

All information is relayed back to the patient's care team and primary care provider to make decisions about how to adjust care. 

While the platform now is only for certain pulmonary conditions, Ms. Bennion said further work in years to come could allow for monitoring more acute respiratory conditions like COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and flu. 

"What we will never do is take the patient or the healthcare personnel — ultimately the human aspect out of that," she said. "All of the intelligence that we get, the physiologic monitoring prompts and data, has to be analyzed. Yes, artificial intelligence will help us, but you can't give that high touch personalized care by taking the human care provider out of the patient's life. That just doesn't work."

Within the next year, Ms. Bennion hopes to have 2,000 patients on the new pulmonary platform for monitoring and continue research with the team working on the technology to eventually advocate for funding and possibly scale its use. 


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