Now that we find ourselves in the throes of a global health crisis, telemedicine is critical to providing patient consultations and care from afar. It keeps vulnerable populations safely at home while receiving routine care, safeguards the health of our essential healthcare workers, and helps medical professionals quickly share vital knowledge.
While the emergence of COVID-19 redefined the ways in which we conduct nearly every aspect of our lives (think – work, school, medical and psychiatric care, legal services, and government), many medical providers were leveraging telemedicine long before the pandemic.
Marietta Memorial Hospital (MMH) is one medical institution that was already connecting with patients and addressing their needs remotely. The not-for-profit integrated health system is led by a volunteer board of community members committed to providing comprehensive care to parts of Ohio. Today, MMH has 64 clinics, working with over 500 physicians representing over 40 specialties. The system seeks to deliver quality care that is affordable and accessible, with an additional focus on medical education and community service – where technology plays a key role.
In a recent interview, Poly spoke with MMH’s CIO David Watson and IT Administrator and Business Relations Specialist, Jerry Weaver about the patient experience and MMH’s journey to telemedicine.
HOW MMH USES POLY
MMH provides patient care in a wide variety of general health, emergency, and behavioral health services. In 2017 and 2019, MMH received USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) grant funding, which allowed them to begin establishing their Clariti infrastructure of Poly RealPresence Utility Cart 500’s and RealPresence Convene desktop systems. This addition provided the hospital with richer virtual communication, both internally and externally.
In addition to video, the hospital’s 24/7 call center uses Poly Voyager 4220 wireless Bluetooth headsets, while employees working in billing and operations and other administrative capacities use a mix of headsets and Calisto 7200 speakerphones.
THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB
To administer high-quality patient care remotely, MMH required communication tools that were able to provide consistent audio and video capabilities to facilitate virtual consultations and organizational communications. The technology needed to have robust, lifelike video capable of being used to provide consultations and treatment for patients. Additionally, due to the hospital’s vast network of care providers and staff located in either their one million square foot medical facility or one of the 50 other locations around the region, the technology needed to be easy to use and manage remotely.
“The Studio USB is ideal because you never know which collaboration platform the other party will be using, so Studio allows hospital staff to be ever-ready,” Weaver said. “It’s a utility truck that will pull any load we throw at it – easy for patients, easy for staff, management, and supervisors.”
INTEROPERABLE TECHNOLOGY = SOUND INVESTMENT
Technology that can “pull any load” is in fact essential to successfully facilitate telehealth services. To be useful, it must be intuitive across all user-levels, and interoperable with popular cloud collaboration services and devices. Poly’s video solutions work with all leading cloud video platforms, so users can stick with the provider they know and love, and be confident their hardware investments are future-proof.
“The Studio has been great because we can run meetings with Poly RealPresence, Zoom, Teams – it can really run whatever interface people want to use, so we didn’t feel locked in upfront and that has been a huge selling point for us,” said Weaver. “The open architecture of Poly devices allows us to throw Apple and Windows devices at it, and it works every time. You can have reliable connectivity with a multitude of devices, and it allows us to leverage the hardware we have already made significant investments in.”
RESPONSIBLE ORGANIZATIONAL SPENDING
From an organizational perspective, the use of video has enabled the hospital to keep certain spending low – thereby allowing MMH to allocate funds to expand their network of care providers. For example, high-quality video is used to help recruit doctors, saving money on travel costs for candidates and hospital administrators.
WHEN VIRTUAL IS THE NEXT BEST THING: VIDEO AS THE HERO OF TELEMED
CARE TO UNDERSERVED AREAS
On the doctor-patient level, the hospital system has been using Poly video endpoints for telehealth appointments in a variety of circumstances. As implied by the RUS grant, MMH uses video to provide care to patients in remote or underserved areas. In total, MMH currently has 50 Poly Studio endpoints deployed for telemedicine consults and patient visits. Twenty of the units are mounted to portable carts and paired with a computer monitor, and the remaining 30 Studios are paired with 60-inch screens in the hospital’s incident command center.
Image 1: Portable Telemed carts equipped with Poly video endpoints
SWIFT PATIENT TREATMENT
On the patient level, some of the most powerful ways video has transformed medicine are in the areas of remote consultations and specialist appointments. Weaver shared an example of an oncologist who was in Europe when one of their patients came to the hospital in need of emergency care. Fortunately, the patient was able to connect with their doctor through the Poly Studio USB (Telemed cart pictured in image 2). Because the doctor could clearly see and hear the patient, they were able to get the patient into proper treatment within a matter of minutes.
Video conferencing devices can also record sessions for educational purposes, a feature especially helpful in therapeutics. For example, when patients are unable to travel to physical therapy, rehabilitation staff can still take them through exercises. In an instance such as this, one doctor might have 10 patients performing their exercises at a time. After the workout, the doctor and patient debrief one-on-one via the Poly Studio. This means that one doctor now can conduct 10 consults in an hour without leaving their office. Not only does this allow more patients to receive care, it also ensures high-quality interactions.
MMH’S MOBILE HEALTHCARE APP
Another way MMH promoted ease and accessibility was through their express care telemedicine app, MemorialCareNow. Regardless of where the patient is, they can quickly connect with a healthcare provider 24/7. The doctors are based out of MMH’s Selby Hospital Emergency department, where they meet with patients via the Poly Studio.
PREPARED AHEAD OF A PANDEMIC
As early adopters of telehealth, MMH was able to leverage telemedicine’s full potential in facilitating virtual appointments and specialist referrals in lieu of in-person visits.
Early into the pandemic, telehealth interactions increased from several hundred to 5,000 in the first six weeks alone. Additionally, MMH instituted a FEMA-based incident command center where healthcare workers and hospital administrators work to address COVID-19 concerns through video.
Image 3: Marietta Memorial Hospital’s COVID Patient Pathway
SAFEGUARDING PATIENT HEALTH WITH VIDEO
Most at risk are the elderly living in nursing homes. Because many nursing homes throughout the region are in resource-deprived, remote areas, even pre-pandemic, MMH was already using the Poly Studio USB to make specialist referrals while on-site nursing staff tended to patients.
Weaver noted that one of the most difficult patient demographics to treat within the assisted care population are those with behavioral health issues. To ensure patients receive appropriate care, a video cart (see image 4) is brought into their room, and their doctors, therapists, or patient advocates interact with the psychiatrist or psychologist on behalf of, and in the presence of, the patient.
By previously investing in the infrastructure and care procedures needed to facilitate telemedicine operations prior to COVID-19, MMH was easily able to scale their system to enable the majority of interactions between physicians and patients to take place remotely.
For many, the pandemic spurred substantial organizational changes to transform operations into a remote environment overnight. In the case of MMH, their early adoption of telehealth enabled them to be agile in their response to COVID-19, and continue to provide quality care in a time of need. For more information about Poly’s solutions for healthcare, contact a Poly representative.
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