The Future Is Now

 WMCHealth’s new telemedicine initiative is transforming healthcare.

BY ALI JACKSON-JOLLEY


In the not-too-distant future, telemedicine will likely become part of the standard of care across the country — but for the Hudson Valley region “the future is now,” says Corey Scurlock, MD, MBA, the newly appointed Medical Director at Westchester Medical Center Health Network’s (WMCHealth) telemedicine program called WMCeHealth. Telemedicine is defined as the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology. WMC’s eHealth program includes a 5,500-square-foot operations center with 20 multimedia stations and the latest telemedicine patient-monitoring technologies and software that reaches throughout the region. 

Dr. Scurlock is quick to point out that this technology “does not replace your bedside doctor — it’s a collaboration. Healthcare is delivered in a team-based model and in this case [eHealth] is part of that team — it’s an extra tool to get you better.”

The eHealth program (which represents an initial $7 million investment in technology, infrastructure and staff) is the first of its kind in the Hudson Valley region, providing patients with greater convenience, access and continuity of care through the use of cutting-edge telemedicine. But while eHealth may be new to the region, this technology is tried and true, and proven to improve patient outcomes. 

Bringing the Doctor to the Patient

Dr. Scurlock says the arrival of telemedicine is comparable to the way Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) units transformed emergency care for soldiers. “With M.A.S.H. units, we saw for the first time doctors being brought to the place where their patients needed them most — on the battlefields. With eHealth, we have the opportunity to bring enhanced care to all parts of the Hudson Valley, where virtual visits allow us to bring specialists who aren’t in the area to the patients who need them. eHealth is also a way to standardize care because you have small groups of doctors taking care of larger groups of patients at once, so there is less variability in care.”

The initial rollout of WMCeHealth began with the launch of the ePsychiatry initiative, which now connects behavioral health outpatients and staff at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie with clinical psychiatry specialists at WMCHealth’s Behavioral Health Center through two-way video conferencing. The new effort has already resulted in a greatly improved appointment compliance rate and increased patient satisfaction.

Sneak Peek Into the eICU

Now WMCeHealth has launched the electronic Intensive Care Unit (eICU), to treat critically ill patients at Westchester Medical Center and MidHudson Regional Hospital. January is the official launch of eICU service for ICUs at Westchester Medical Center and MidHudson Regional Hospital. Dr. Scurlock explains that the eICU doctors and nurses, led on-site by Christian Becker, MD, PhD, FCCP, are located in a central hub called “the core,” where they will have a direct video link to the ICU patients in the hospitals.  “The ability to initiate a teleconference flows in both directions — so either the eICU provider or bedside team can initiate the call.  But before the doctor or nurse enters [via video], a doorbell rings so that privacy is taken into consideration. About 10-20 seconds after the doorbell sounds, the clinician’s face comes up on the screen,” Dr. Becker explains.

In addition, the eICU provides enhanced capability to constantly analyze the patient’s vitals and to look for patterns and trends toward instability. “We use this technology to alert us when patients’ conditions change, even slightly, so we can warn the bedside teams. And what we are seeing around the country is that with the use of this technology, there is a reduction in codes and adverse events in the ICU,” Dr. Becker says.

A Glimpse Into the Future

Following the introduction of eICU, near-term initiatives will include adding ePsychiatry to other areas of the WMCHealth Network’s hospitals, as well as new initiatives in eStroke, specialty eConsults, and even network-wide monitoring of patients to improve quality in areas like infection and fall prevention. There are also plans to expand to areas such as cardiology, oncology, radiology, neurology, transplant and pediatrics, and expanding connections and consultations with WMCHealth’s seven hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, emergency departments and eventually patients’ homes. “I envision eHealth at every level of care, so that access is virtually unlimited, and we are delivering high quality, standardized care for all patients in the Hudson Valley,” says Dr. Scurlock.