EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT STAFF at all HCA hospitals move quickly to provide the best patient care, but sometimes there’s a bottleneck between the intake process and the next step in care for some of those individuals. That could result from a facility not having a specialist on staff, or not on-site when the patient is being seen.

Across HCA, telemedicine programs are providing a solution that offers patient-centric care, close to home. Currently these programs are creating efficiencies in many different service lines, including behavioral health, stroke and pediatrics, across HCA, including Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Utah.

Denver’s rural areas benefit 

In Colorado, both smaller, rural hospitals and urban facilities benefit from a telemedicine program that dates back to 2006. What began as a stroke telemedicine program has grown to a network of 43 units performing a variety of services, says Megan Canter, Director of Telemedicine for the HealthONE and WesleyCare Telemedicine Networks for the Continental Division.

“We work with all departments in our partner facilities that touch telemedicine, from the medical staff office to the identified clinical lead, so that our partners build a program, not just house a piece of technology,” Canter says. “That has helped us be very successful. We have created a community, and as an example, distribute monthly newsletters so we can share stories between our partner facilities.”

In addition to stroke and mental health services, the programs now offer pediatric telemedicine services, and many more service lines are on the list for future expansion.

“We are in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming, and plan on expanding into Nebraska,” Canter says, adding that more than 80 percent of pediatric patients and 60 percent of rural stroke patients treated by telemedicine stay in their home communities, reducing transfer costs and improving patient satisfaction.

Gulf Coast targets psych evaluations 

At Bayshore Medical Center in Pasadena, Texas, the Health Crisis Assessment Team (HCAT) operates the Behavioral Health Telemedicine Program, says Gabriel Gonzalez, Director of Psychiatric Services and Director of HCAT for the Gulf Coast Division.

“If a patient needs a psychiatric consult, the physician requests an assessment to determine that next level of care,” Gonzalez says. “We work with the nursing staff, who have been trained on how to utilize the telemedicine cart, and then the remote clinician can conduct a 30-minute interview with the patient and provide recommendations.”

Often issues with drug or alcohol abuse are uncovered during the consult, or other underlying issues that have not been considered in the treatment plan to this point. That helps the entire care team going forward, and does so in a short window of time vs. waiting several hours for the clinician to physically travel to the hospital for the consult.

Drastically reduced wait times 

The Bayshore telemedicine initiative began in July 2012 and now the HCAT team supports seven other HCA hospitals in the Houston market.

“Before we implemented telemedicine, the wait time for an assessment could be as much as six hours, just because we had to get the clinician to the hospital,” Gonzalez says. “Now it is about an hour — a huge reduction. The nurses like it because they can place the cart, and then take care of other patients while the assessment is going on. The doctors like it because they can respond to a patient’s needs faster. And the patients, especially younger ones, are used to a more interactive media experience, so they adapt very well.”

“Taking the telemedicine concept and turning it into reality for psych patients, and now looking into other service lines, is a huge but worthwhile undertaking,” says Jeanna Barnard, Bayshore’s CEO.

“We continue to come up with new ideas for telemedicine,” Barnard says. “We began by just looking at how we could improve response times, and get patients out of the halls. This fixed it for everybody, and it’s a program that can be easily copied in other hospitals.”