How UPMC Is Using Remote Patient Monitoring and Telehealth

Telemedicine is building steam across the country, evolving from something that both providers and patients once considered to be a nice-to-have luxury to a service now deemed essential. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), one of the nation's largest integrated health systems, has long been at the forefront of telemedicine and remote patient care and is now expanding its services to treat more patients from the comfort of their own homes.

UPMC has been named one of the "Most Wired" health systems in Hospitals & Health Networks - the journal of the American Hospital Association - for 19 years in a row. Its wide-ranging telemedicine practices give patients access to more than 30 medical specialties, as providers collaborate with patients for emergent care, real-time remote consultations, pre- and post-operative surgical care, and home monitoring via videoconferencing.

Expanding Remote Patient Care

Last year, UPMC successfully launched its new smartphone-enabled AnywhereCare program - an easy-to-use platform that allows patients to receive high-quality care from emergency room professionals 24 hours a day no matter where they are. Using the video camera on any connected device - smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer - patients aged 3 and older with a range of non-emergency symptoms can be seen face-to-face by a health care professional, who will make an assessment and recommend a personalized treatment plan.

Alongside this program, UPMC has been working to expand its remote care services even further to include seriously ill patients suffering from more severe ailments. One such innovation comes in the form of UPMC's remote patient monitoring program. The initiative actually began five years ago as a tablet-based program for patients with congestive heart failure, but is now being expanded to cover other conditions, and is proving to be a valuable tool in preventing expensive and unnecessary hospitalizations.

After achieving significant reductions in all-cause readmission rates from its remote monitoring of heart failure patients, UPMC could see that the program was effective and therefore ready for expansion. "To really scale the program and get into the population level management, we really need a vastly reduced cost per unit. The only way to really do this is to leverage what the patients already have, which is 'Bring Your Own Device'," said Ravi Ramani, MD, Director, UPMC Integrated Heart Failure, during Remote Patient Monitoring at UPMC: Creating Early Warning Systems to Reduce Unplanned Healthcare Utilization, a March 2018 webinar which is now available for replay.

To aid with the expansion, UPMC turned to remote monitoring and telehealth vendor Vivify Health, whose platform allows UPMC to collect key biometric data - such as weight and blood pressure, along with answers to triage questions - from at-home patients on a daily basis. This data triggers alerts if a patient's condition worsens, allowing providers to intervene more quickly - often before a trip to the emergency department is necessary.

"Patients simply open a box, then turn on a tablet or respond to a text message to access remote patient monitoring," Andrew Watson, MD, MLitt, FACS, Medical Director of UPMC Telemedicine, said. "The process has been streamlined to make it simple for them. Care is provided through survey questions, educational videos, scales, BP cuffs and pulse oximeters, and live video visits."

The Vivify platform provides a call center portal, equipment monitoring, reporting features, and integration with electronic health records. It also offers BYOD (bring-your-own-device) capabilities that allow patients to access the platform using their own personal devices. UPMC reports that Medicare members that have enrolled in the Vivify program at UPMC are 76% less likely to be readmitted to the hospital. "The transition to the remote patient monitoring technology was almost seamless," Watson said. "Patient satisfaction in over 1,500 patients remains over 90%. And compliance likewise is over 90%."

Expanding Neurology Services with Telemedicine Technology

In May this year, UPMC also announced an expansion of its teleneurology platform to serve central Pennsylvania patients via telemedicine technology. Using state-of-the-art, two-way audio and videoconferencing, specialists at the UPMC campus in Pittsburgh can now treat UPMC Pinnacle patients in central Pennsylvania dealing with stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), and other acute neurology conditions through virtual visits.

"Without leaving the area, this is a unique opportunity for our neurology patients to get ongoing care from additional neurologists with experience ranging from life-saving intervention for severe brain trauma to skillful management of neurological illnesses," said UPMC Pinnacle's Rhunelle C. Murray, MD. "We look forward to seeing and helping new patients in central Pennsylvania."

Using digital monitoring tools and two-way cameras, patients can see and talk to doctors as if they were in the same room, but from the comfort and safety of their own homes. The new program allows UPMC Pinnacle to offer its neurology services to more patients with a wide range of neurological disorders, including brain and spinal cord traumas, chronic headaches and migraines, dementia, Parkinson's disease, stroke, MS, and more.

"Offering access to the most advanced neurology care through telemedicine reflects UPMC's commitment to bringing world-class care to all of the communities we serve," Lawrence Wechsler, MD, UPMC's Vice President of Telemedicine Services, said in a press release.

Leading the Digital Patient Experience

UPMC's aim is to keep moving patients closer to the digital experience while continuing to provide care that is precise and personalized to every individual. By investing in remote patient monitoring and telemedicine technology, the health system is able to provide more patients with access to specialists, and its Chief Information Officer anticipates digital services like these to drive both outpatient and inpatient experiences even further in the years to come.

"Our commitment starts from the top," said UPMC's Senior Vice President and CIO Ed McCallister. "We're never satisfied with what we've accomplished, so we're always looking toward the future. The foundation we've laid thus far has positioned us well to execute our great vision. It's an exciting time to be a part of the technology that drives UPMC."

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