Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia is investing $20 million to open two urgent-care centers, including one three blocks from the existing ER, to treat patients with routine medical needs, and build a video visits program so that other patients never have to leave home.
Obviously, it’s the last part we care about the most; and like many other telehealth services, Jefferson’s initiative was propelled by the Affordable Care Act, which created a payment model that allows Medicare providers to qualify for a share of the savings if they can reduce overall health-care costs in their areas.
Eventually, doctors at Jefferson plan to have a “virtual emergency department” to remotely triage many of the 119,000 people who visit its ER every year.Steve Klasko, the CEO of Jefferson, is betting insurers will increasingly follow Medicare’s lead. “If that transition happens in two years, then we look like geniuses,” says Judd Hollander, an emergency doctor who’s helping develop Jefferson’s push into virtual medicine, which involves more than 100 employees so far. “If that transition happens in 30 years, we don’t quite look like geniuses.”
The hospital began experimenting with video apps last fall, and now it plans to use the same technology to coordinate with primary-care physicians when patients go home. Eventually, doctors at Jefferson plan to have a “virtual emergency department” to remotely triage many of the 119,000 people who visit its ER every year. Physicians will be able to use a video connection to aid in minor ailments such as the flu, prescribe medicine and more.
Ultimately, the real sign of success, according to Hollander, will be “when the ERs start closing.” We’re still far from that goal, though.