Bon Secours Health System Harnesses Telehealth to Fight Tenacious Flu Season

| URAC Staff
Woman holding tissue during virtual consultation with doctor

No one welcomes the dreaded cold and flu season, but the team at Bon Secours Health System (BSHS) feel better prepared than most, says Marlon Priest, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer.  Like many locations around the country, BSHS’s patient coverage area is hit with a deluge of flu-suffering patients at this time of year. Thanks in part to new telehealth tools and tactics “we've improved access to those patients with primary care needs,” Dr. Priest reports.

He'll bring his insights in his case study presentation at the Telemed Leadership Forum 2019 in Washington, DC, April 3-5, 2019. This 2-1/2-day event is designed for physicians and leaders in hospitals and health systems, health plans, academic medical centers, telehealth providers and networks, as well as government regulators and policymakers.

In early 2016, BSHS launched Bon Secours 24/7, a custom platform for virtual visits for its employees and residents served by its facilities across the nation. In September 2018, BSHS and Mercy Health combined to become the United States’ fifth largest Catholic healthcare ministry and one of the nation’s 20 largest healthcare systems. Its healthcare locations span seven states: Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia.

At the height of the cold and flu season, urgent care (UC) facilities fill up quickly, Dr. Priest says. “Patients who need to get care don't want to sit around the UC all day, so we pushed very hard to have our” 24/7 stations take up the slack.

While telehealth has already demonstrated its value at BSHS, that’s by no means the limit to what it can do, Dr. Priest says. For example, “our surgeons are very happy with the fact that they can do post-op visits, so we're pretty excited about that.” Another plus: BSHS has been able to accommodate more stroke patients in less time, thanks in part to telehealth innovations.

Telehealth has also proven beneficial for mentally ill patients throughout BSHS’s treatment region, Dr. Priest says. “We’ve been able improve the outcomes of patients who need to see a psychiatrist, [even when] there's no psychiatrist in the community. Because we've screened for [mental] health and depression in our practices, we've also seen some improvements in the outcomes of those patient populations.”

However, meaningful telehealth success didn’t come until Dr. Priest and team looked at the BSHS mission statement from a new angle. Rather than focusing on sometimes elusive cost cutting or increased revenue data in a vacuum, BSHS considered another way of looking at how to weave telehealth into their already strong program. “The moment we flipped the switch and said this is about meeting patients’ needs at the moment those needs arise, and then in a much more time efficient fashion, we became very excited as the acceptance of telehealth increases, in terms of primary care, in terms of willing patients, and in terms of monetization and hospital behavioral health.”

BSHS is no latecomer to telehealth and other innovations. Four of its local health systems were deemed among the nation’s “most wired,” according to the results of the 18th annual 2016 Most Wired Survey conducted by the American Hospital Association’s Health Forum (AMAHF).  The designation is based on the results of the AMAHF’s annual Most Wired Survey, which examines how organizations are leveraging information technology to improve performance for value-based health care in the areas of infrastructure, business and administrative management; quality and safety; and clinical integration.


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