Similar to many health systems across the country, COVID-19 created an urgent need for MaineHealth to take care of patients at a distance to keep patients and care teams safe.
“This was relevant to patients in the outpatient setting, who needed to stay connected with their primary care and specialist providers for acute and chronic needs, as well as for patients in the inpatient setting, who were able to receive some of their care virtually,” said Lizzy Mulcahy, director of telehealth at the Portland, Maine-based health system.
“In order to solve for the need to provide care virtually, MaineHealth integrated virtual care services into its care ecosystem, which required identifying and purchasing the software and hardware solutions, implementing large education efforts for patients and care team members, and creating a process for quality assurance and analytics,” she explained.
MaineHealth wanted telemedicine technology that could easily integrate into its care models and that would be highly accessible for patients to use.
“Due to the rurality of Maine, the solution needed to be able to operate well in low-bandwidth areas,” said Patty VonIderstine, IT director for client services and telehealth at MaineHealth. “Choosing a solution that was easy to use for both patients and care teams was a high priority so as not to exacerbate digital access and digital literacy barriers.”
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MEETING THE CHALLENGE
The telemedicine technology MaineHealth selected has been used in the inpatient and outpatient settings.
“In the inpatient setting, Vidyo was used to connect care teams virtually with patients in isolation areas,” said Tom Winchell, telehealth technical architect at MaineHealth. “In the outpatient setting, there was initiation and wide deployment of Zoom service access for direct patient care.
“Approximately 1,000 licenses were implemented in a very compressed period of time,” he continued. “The Zoom services were used for direct patient care between providers either in office or from remote sites, with patients who were located in their home environment and in time, integrated into MaineHealth’s EHR.”
In order to participate in virtual care, MaineHealth also purchased care team set-ups, including desktop PCs, iPads and web cameras.
“At this time, utilization has been the primary success metric that has been achieved with the implementation of this solution,” VonIderstine reported. “Care team adoption was not isolated in one area – rather, primary care, specialty and behavioral health services all showed high numbers of utilization.
“Now that we are coming through to the other side of the pandemic, we are still seeing high numbers of utilization, particularly in the behavioral health space,” she added. “Additionally, the virtual services have been seen as high value in group sessions, such as for healthy lifestyle behavior change or chronic disease management.”
USING FCC AWARD FUNDS
MaineHealth was awarded $803,268 from the FCC telehealth award program for telemedicine carts, laptop computers, tablets, and videoconferencing equipment and software with which providers can conduct virtual rounding for inpatients, that will enable patients to see specialty care and primary care providers from the patient’s home, and so patients in the hospitals can use tablets to see and talk with family members who they otherwise cannot see due to the significant restrictions on visiting caused by the threat of COVID–19.
“The resources afforded via the FCC CARES program allowed a rapid rollout of new work processes, modalities and structures for the delivery of healthcare for the patients of MaineHealth,” VonIderstine stated. “There is now a robust, extensive and dynamic virtual care option for MaineHealth patients that did not exist prior to the pandemic.
“This was planned, purchased, tested, deployed and activated in a consolidated timeframe,” she noted. “The financial support from CARES allowed the initial phase of the COVID response build out to unfold with greater effectiveness and efficiency than would have otherwise been possible.”
Now that the virtual care framework is established, MaineHealth looks forward to continuing to build out its omni-channel offerings for patients and care teams in order to improve quality of care, improve patient experience and enhance the care team experience, she concluded.