Nemours' telehealth visits jump 1,110% in one week: 4 insights on the health system's strategy during coronavirus pandemic

To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Nemours Children's Health System has been ramping up its telemedicine efforts and staff training to accommodate more virtual care visits.

In the past week alone, the health system has seen a 1,110 percent increase in telemedicine visits, with the number of requests continuing to rise, Carey Officer, operational vice president of Nemours' telemedicine platform, told Becker's Hospital Review.

The health system's telemedicine platform, dubbed Nemours Care Connect, is available to pediatric patients 24/7 for conditions including COVID-19, fever, cough and headaches.

Here, Ms. Officer, who also serves as the vice president of Nemours' Center for Health Delivery Innovation, discusses the health system's expanding telemedicine efforts as well as other digital resources its offering to help its patients manage COVID-19.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How is Nemours using telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Carey Officer: With community spread of COVID-19, Nemours is encouraging the use of telemedicine as an appropriate first step to help address concerns and direct patients and families to the best level of care. This is a way to free-up our in-person resources, as well as minimize children and families' exposure to illnesses in clinic, urgent care and emergency department waiting rooms. We want to protect our patients, especially those who are immunocompromised and need to come to a physical location, as well as our healthcare associates who need to be healthy to continue to care for our patients.

Q: How is Nemours preparing for an increased demand in its virtual care services? 

CO: A preparation plan is in place to accommodate demand by training more providers to do telehealth visits both in primary care, urgent and specialty care, in addition to the on-demand care team. Having access to the on-demand team from inside clinics and urgent care sites is also a strategy in progress. Additionally, Nemours is working with a vendor for our adult associates to access telemedicine visits for themselves and appropriately isolate as needed. We are working to ensure every one of our patients and associates has access to care via telemedicine. 

Q: As the operational vice president of telemedicine at Nemours, what concerns have you been grappling with during the COVID-19 outbreak? 

CO: We want to make sure families know what resources are available to them during this outbreak. We have communicated directly with our patients and families providing them information on how to sign up for our telehealth platform, Nemours CareConnect, so they can obtain the care they need from their home, but also to be prepared if we need to convert specialty care visits from an in-office visit to a telehealth visit.

Q: What advice do you have for other hospitals and health systems looking to expand their telemedicine capabilities during this time? 

CO: In a pandemic, telehealth services can be invaluable in maintaining the operations infrastructure of the healthcare organization. Imagine exposed providers still being able to care for their patients, chronic care management continuing by remote monitoring and avoiding medication refill delays. Screening using telehealth also ensures only the high risk patients are sent to hospital and any testing approved by the health department is done in a planned and protected environment for all involved.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can provide is leveraging the entire system and their expertise. With the federal and state laws changing on a daily basis – it's important to have all expertise at the table while making decisions including legal, compliance, risk, managed care and operational front-line staff. This has been critical to our ability to remain agile during this time of great change. We have seen our telehealth visits increase more than 1,100 percent over the past week and it's rising. 

More articles on telehealth:
Maryland city partners with Amazon, Sprint on $200M telehealth program
UW Medicine, Seattle Children's Hospital partner with Amazon Care to deliver at-home coronavirus test kits
FDA allows expanded use of remote patient monitoring devices

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