Healthcare’s new digital frontier is pushing WMC’s eHealth Program to new heights.
By Melissa F. Pheterson
Embracing and optimizing breakthroughs in telemedicine, the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) eHealth Program launched in 2016 to connect critical-care specialists with patients in ICUs on two of the network’s campuses: Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla and MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie. Today, various forms of telemedicine technology extend to campuses across WMCHealth, including mobile eHealth, eCardiology and ePsychiatry services.
Using state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, patients and their families can meet and speak with care providers stationed at the eHealth Center on the network’s flagship Valhalla campus. This secure communication is embedded in cutting-edge software that tracks vital signs, X-rays, bloodwork and medications while building a database of best practices that guides patients toward recovery. If patients are in crisis, bedside staff can alert the eICU team by pushing a button and a physician at the eHealth Center’s multimedia headquarters responds within 12 seconds.
“Telemedicine connects patients and clinical staff in a new way,” says Corey Scurlock, MD, MBA, Medical Director of WMCHealth’s eHealth Program. “Our telehealth initiative doesn’t take away or replace doctors or nurses. It’s just an extra layer of safety, support and quality care that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
As eHealth enters its third year, here’s a look at the milestones that have shaped its success.
January 2016: After 10 weeks of planning and coordination, the “eICU” rolls out to eight Intensive Care Units at Westchester Medical Center and MidHudson Regional Hospital. Doctors and nurses at the eHealth Center begin to examine patients, answer questions and collaborate directly with on-site clinical staff. Through eHealth, doctors treat 100 patients a day, around the clock, providing critical reinforcements and a data-driven approach to optimizing care.
May 2016: An unbroken streak in preventing blood clots among eICU patients begins. “The software we use is a powerful tool for our physicians to treat patients,” says Dr. Scurlock. “It tracks vital signs and grades acuity, and brings certain patients to the attention of the care team, prior to instability or further illness. It also tracks and audits the ‘best practices’ that yield quality results in patient care. For our critically ill patients, who are typically bed-bound and at risk of developing blood clots in their legs, the software and clinical pathways provide care plans that minimize this risk.”
Fall 2016: Telemedicine technology debuts in select ambulances that transfer patients between hospitals. “The Trauma team, the Neonatal team, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit team and the Burn team can all “meet” patients en route, observe their conditions and start treatment before they even arrive at the hospital,” Dr. Scurlock says. “For one pediatric patient having respiratory distress, the family was able to meet the physician and create a care plan for their child while still in the ambulance.”
Spring 2017: Every eHealth physician takes lessons from the Harvard Business Review on communication and change management. “I evaluate my staff on their clinical skills and, just as importantly, their communication skills,” Dr. Scurlock says. “I have them read articles on leadership and negotiation — things you don’t always learn in medical school. The goal is to have patients and colleagues gain trust and confidence in their eHealth team in just a few seconds on screen.”
Spring 2018: This year, eHealth will expand its reach across the network, at sites including HealthAlliance Hospital: Broadway Campus in Kingston, to bridge geographic divides with technology. “Elderly patients who have chronic diseases and need specialists often live in rural areas, whereas physicians tend to be clustered in or around metropolitan areas,” says Dr. Scurlock. “Telemedicine connects our patients in the Hudson Valley to the medical experts they need. We aim to have the patients receive the right care, at the right time in the right place.”