St. Lou…is Virtual Leader in Healthcare with World’s First and Only Dedicated Virtual Care Center

Tuesday December 5, 2017

Dr. Gavin Helton, Medical Director of Mercy Virtual, talking with Engagement@Home patient navigator.

By Robyn Frankel

In addition to being one of the nation’s leading health care centers with exceptional hospitals, medical schools and research universities, St. Louis is home to the world’s first and only dedicated Virtual Care Center.

Located in Chesterfield at the intersection of Highway 40 and Clarkson Road, the Mercy Virtual Care Center describes itself as “a hospital without beds.” But it does have patients, medical teams, patient-centered care, and advanced technology such as highly sensitive cameras and real-time monitoring of vital signs.

“Virtual care takes telemedicine to a whole new level,” said Michael Chappuis, chief administrative officer for Mercy Virtual.

“Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth or e-health, allows patients in remote locations to use telecommunications technology to access medical experts quickly, efficiently and without travel.  Health care professionals use the technology to ‘see’ patients in multiple locations and evaluate, diagnose and treat those patients without leaving their facility,” said Chappuis. “Telemedicine is widely and effectively used by the finest healthcare systems, including those in St. Louis.”

“But whereas telemedicine typically involves one medical professional who has a specific specialty or expertise, virtual care is a complete care continuum that involves a whole team collaboration with bedside clinicians, primary providers and specialists who maximize patient information in near real time,” Chappuis said.

Early detection of health problems is a key component of virtual care. Doctors and nurses sit at carrels in front of monitors that include camera-eye view of the patients, graphs of their blood chemical and images of their lungs and limbs, and lists of problems that computer programs tells them to watch for. Because problems can be detected before a patient may even aware of symptoms, appropriate intervention can be initiated and more serious complications can often be averted.

“The technology-enabled, complete care continuum can improve quality, outcomes and satisfaction for patients, physicians, leaders and team members,” said Chappuis. “In addition, since two-percent of patients account for 20 percent of all healthcare expense, virtual care can substantially lower medical care costs by closely monitoring those patients to keep them healthier and reduce repeat hospitalizations.”

Because the concept of virtual care as part of a complete care continuum is still relatively new, St. Louis-based Mercy is partnering with various like-minded health systems to provide services to their systems, as well as share its expertise as other systems develop their own virtual care. In addition, Mercy Virtual has formed a national virtual care consortium to co-create markets, balance workloads, share clinical resources, innovate care delivery, and create optimal care and outcomes that are ahead of the curve.

A November 8, 2017 article written by Arthur Allen in Politico said, “Mercy Virtual is arguably the world’s most advanced example of something gaining momentum in the health care world: A virtual hospital, where specialists remotely care for patients at a distance.  It’s a product of converging trends in health care, including hospital consolidation, advances in remote-monitoring technology and changes in the way medicine is paid for.”

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