How Intermountain has grown its telemedicine program

Intermountain Healthcare’s critical care telemedicine program began when one small hospital in 2011 wanted to open an intensive care unit. But its full-fledged program, which now covers 22 hospitals, officially launched in 2014, according to Bill Beninati, medical director for critical care telehealth at the Salt Lake City-based health system, who spoke with Healthcare Informatics about some of the lessons learned since implementation.

It took the organization nearly a year to decide whether to buy off-the-shelf technology or build its own, he said. Ultimately, Intermountain decided that building its own system offered more flexibility.

What's more, the program used nurses only initially because they were easier to hire. It now employs 22 doctors, in addition to 20 nurses who monitor patient care in real time through audio and video connections.

Intermountain also took a consultant’s advice not to house the telehealth center inside the hospital, according to Beninati, which he said could have been distracting to staff. Instead, the program is located in the hospital’s supply chain center, where, Beninati said, employees can concentrate 100 percent on critical care needs.

Over 18 months, the health system’s community hospitals increased the number of complex patients they cared for, yet reported a 33 percent decrease in hospital mortality and 34 percent drop in ICU mortality, Beninati said. To that end, the program helped Intermountain save $1 million, he said.

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