Virtual ICU Model Plays Key Role in Allegheny Health Network Pandemic Response Planning

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Partnership with Mercy Virtual Increases ICU Capacity at Four Network Hospitals

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Today, this partnership has even greater significance as we scale operations across our network in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increasing critical care capacity has been a central priority of hospitals and health systems that are responding to or preparing for possible surges of patients experiencing the worst effects of COVID-19. In both Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa., Allegheny Health Network (AHN) is taking advantage of an innovative critical care telehealth solution developed by St. Louis-based Mercy Virtual to meet this pressing need.

Following progressive implementation over the last year of Mercy Virtual’s ‘vICU’ capabilities at AHN’s Jefferson, Allegheny Valley and Canonsburg hospitals, the Network also launched the program this month at Saint Vincent Hospital. The partnership has expanded AHN’s ICU capacity by more than 60 beds overall, with the potential to increase capacity by 50 additional beds if needed.

A subsidiary of the St. Louis-based health system Mercy, Mercy Virtual is a nationally recognized leader in the development and delivery of telehealth solutions to hospitals around the country.

Through state-of-the-art telecommunication and remote patient monitoring technology located in each ICU room at these four AHN hospitals, board-certified intensivists based at Mercy’s Virtual Care Center seamlessly interact and collaborate with AHN clinical staff to provide an additional layer of 24/7 ICU patient care support.

Patient vital signs are continuously monitored by Mercy Virtual clinicians via secure, encrypted connections, while the program’s two-way, high-definition cameras are only activated during patient observations by the Mercy Virtual clinicians and during their engagement with the onsite clinical teams.    

According to Anil Singh, MD, MPH, MMM, FCC, Executive Medical Director of Clinical Transformation at Highmark Health and System Division Director of Critical Care at AHN, the partnership with Mercy Virtual has taken on new meaning in the setting of a pandemic as hospitals work to harness every resource at their disposal to care for critically-ill patients.

“Our collaboration with Mercy Virtual has strengthened the quality and scope of critical care services that we provide at our community hospitals, enabling many more of our patients to receive the advanced care they need closer to home,” said Dr. Singh. “Today, this partnership has even greater significance as we scale operations across our network in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In caring for those with COVID-19, Dr. Singh says the continuous stream of real-time patient data enables more informed decision making which ultimately enhances the safety of frontline caregivers. If staffing needs should increase, the supplemental care provided via vICU ensures the same levels of high-quality critical care.

As AHN prepares for possible surges of patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization in the weeks and months ahead, he says that plans are underway to create even more ICU beds at Allegheny Valley, Jefferson and Saint Vincent hospitals using the telehealth model.

“The success of our efforts in virtual care is directly linked to forward-thinking partners like Allegheny Health Network and Highmark Health. Together, we are able to constantly challenge the status quo in order to provide patients with the highest quality care. AHN’s patients are fortunate to have such strong leaders who are actively changing the approach to health care, while maintaining their focus on them,” said Ashok Palagiri, MD, Vice President of Mercy Virtual Inpatient Services.

In addition to critical care telehealth, AHN has significantly expanded its use of telemedicine across all components of its primary and specialty care programs in an effort to continue providing patients with safe, high-quality care amid the pandemic.

AHN is currently facilitating more than 3,000 telemedicine visits each day. Patients can request a virtual care appointment using AHN’s patient portal known as MyChart.

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About Allegheny Health Network
Allegheny Health Network (AHN.org), a Highmark Health company, is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving the greater Western Pennsylvania region. The Network is composed of 12 hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, Health + Wellness Pavilions, an employed physician organization, home and community-based health services, a research institute, and a group purchasing organization. The Network provides patients with access to a complete spectrum of advanced medical services, including nationally recognized programs for primary and emergency care, trauma care, cardiovascular disease, organ transplantation, cancer care, orthopedic surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, women’s health, diabetes, autoimmune disease and more. AHN employs approximately 21,000 people, has more than 2,500 physicians on its medical staff and serves as a clinical campus for Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine, and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

About Mercy Virtual
Mercy Virtual delivers virtual care services to 600,000 patients across six states, improving patient outcomes and access, while reducing total cost of care. Often called a “hospital without beds,” Mercy Virtual Care Center operates 24 hours a day and is staffed with more than 300 clinicians. Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems from 2016 to 2019 by IBM Watson Health, serves millions annually. Mercy includes more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 45,000 co-workers and 2,400 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services, supply chain organization, ROI, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients in more than 20 states coast to coast.

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Candace Herrington
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