Atrium Health Leading Way in Virtual Care

01.29.2024 Atrium Health News

Ongoing commitment to innovation keeps system on leading edge of quality and convenience

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 29, 2024 Elements of virtual health care have been evolving for several years, but the onset of the pandemic in 2020 spawned tremendous innovation in developing and using virtual technologies to deliver health care conveniently, effectively and quickly, with a direct-to-consumer mindset. Building off more than a decade of prior investments into virtual care technologies, Atrium Health emerged early in the pandemic as an early adopter of virtual care delivery and has rapidly become one of the largest and most influential players in the virtual care arena.

“Care is care,” said Katie Kriener, senior vice president of virtual health for Advocate Health, of which Atrium Health is a part. “Delivering care through technology or virtually is a tactic we’re successfully using to care for our patients and reach underserved populations and communities. It allows us to do more, be better and go faster to help more people live well.”

In a new white paper entitled “Transforming Health Care Delivery Through Virtual Care” Atrium Health notes it utilizes more than 30 virtual programs to deliver high-quality care close to home for its patients, in rural, urban and suburban settings. The paper offers insights into a few of the most highly visible programs, designed to help acquaint consumers with its services, but also to share best practices with other systems hoping to apply some of Atrium Health’s successes in their own local markets.

Hospital at Home: Atrium Health hospital at home is the organization’s signature virtual care platform, allowing patients to receive hospital-level care from the comfort of their own home. Created in less than three weeks’ time as a way to help solve overcrowding issues at the onset of the pandemic, the concept has evolved to provide care for a variety of conditions, from acute to chronic to post-surgical. Paramedics visit patient homes twice a day and facilitate video calls with the patient’s care provider. Currently capable of caring for approximately 60 patients a day, leaders hope to grow the capacity to 200 daily patients by 2025, which is like having an additional, mid-sized hospital that doesn’t have to be built. Atrium Health currently has the nation’s largest hospital at home program.

Virtual Nursing: Atrium Health’s virtual nursing program was also born out of necessity during the height of the pandemic. Each virtual nurse watches over about 10 patients and can monitor vital signs, conduct admissions and discharges, and summon a nurse or doctor to the room, if needed. It has improved nurse retention during a time when many nurses are leaving the profession and has proven useful in mentoring new nurses, as an experienced nurse can be “in the room” with them via video. It has also been shown to reduce the number of falls by patients who attempt to get out of bed. Atrium Health is equipping its new construction hospital projects with virtual nursing capabilities.

School- and Community-based Clinics: Atrium Health established a new standard for the system’s goals of breaking down barriers to improve access as well as connecting more people to the convenience of receiving care how, when and where they want it with its school- and community-based virtual health care offerings. It began with a pilot at a single, rural school in 2017 and, today, on-site virtual care clinics are available in 150 schools, colleges and community sites. The school-based program has been a boon to children, parents, local health systems and the schools, leading to a 32% reduction in preventable emergency department visits and a 50% return-to-classroom rate for students. It has also launched a tele-therapy program available in 133 schools.

Virtual Behavioral Health: It is estimated that up to 40% of adults have symptoms or a diagnosed mental health issue. During the pandemic, the need for behavioral health care became more urgent and Atrium Health immediately ramped up its virtual behavioral health programs in all care areas, including hospital, home, school, community and primary care settings. Consult teams are available to support 12 acute care hospitals, including rural hospitals with no staff psychiatrist. On demand virtual behavioral health capabilities are also embedded into 65 primary care practices. With greater demand, Atrium Health has also found providing virtual behavioral health care allows it to help a greater number of patients each day than is possible in an office setting. Its believed Atrium Health has the largest teletherapy program in the U.S.

Virtual Primary Care: Through recent enhancements within Atrium Health’s virtual offerings, primary care is now available when and how patients need and want it. Patients can schedule an appointment with a family medicine physician, 24/7, and establish a virtual primary care relationship, allowing ongoing care from a dedicated physician. In the fall of 2023, Atrium Health was seeing 5% to 7% of its monthly primary care visits virtually, while 12% of patients utilized its on-demand urgent care virtual options. Atrium Health was also the first system in the nation to implement a new artificial intelligence tool which securely captures the conversations between the provider and the patient during both in-person and telehealth visits, which are then transmitted to the patient’s electronic medical record, improving accuracy and the patient experience.

Virtual Health in Rural Settings: Atrium Health is creating programs that extend the reach of its clinical excellence to more sites of service, including those in rural areas. Video, digital wearables and other equipment enable smaller hospitals to offer sophisticated services locally, including specialty medicine, in areas where poverty, workforce shortages or geography require creative solutions. This allows patients to receive their care close to home, without facing an hour or more drive to a larger city for treatment – whether that be for follow up care or something so complex as chemotherapy.

“We deliver options,” said Molly McColl, Advocate Health’s vice president for virtual and global health care. “We want to ensure our virtual capabilities are a core competency throughout our footprint, helping us be the ‘best place to care’ for our providers and be the most trusted and most preferred health provider in our region. Atrium Health, Advocate Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine – our academic core – are on the leading edge of care delivery and life-science technology, today and for decades to come.”

“Transforming Health Care Delivery Through Virtual Care” was authored by APCO Worldwide on behalf of Atrium Health.

Atrium Health comprises the Southeast Region of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Advocate Health, the nation’s third-largest non-profit health system.