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VIRTUAL CARE: Laurie Dillon, a registered nurse with CoxHealth, interacts with a patient while utilizing virtual care technology recently installed at Cox South Hospital.
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
VIRTUAL CARE: Laurie Dillon, a registered nurse with CoxHealth, interacts with a patient while utilizing virtual care technology recently installed at Cox South Hospital.

CoxHealth invests $10M in virtual care technology

Patients and employees will benefit from investment, officials say

Posted online

Following a successful pilot program, CoxHealth is rolling out a multimillion-dollar investment this year in virtual care technology that will be in hundreds of patient rooms across the health care system.

In partnership with Dutch consumer electronics and medical equipment maker Philips, the Springfield-based health system is installing technology in hospital rooms to enhance patient care by adding virtual support. CoxHealth officials say the virtual care team is made up of employees including nurses, hospitalists, pharmacists and respiratory therapists who will be able to monitor patients virtually and connect with them via cameras in their rooms. The employees will work closely with the bedside team to support the patient’s needs.

The health system plans to add the technology to every inpatient intensive care unit and medical-surgical patient room at Cox South Hospital and Cox Medical Center Branson. It also is being added to mobile carts at Cox North Hospital, Meyer Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital, Cox Monett Hospital and Cox Barton County Hospital. Officials say the virtual care equipment is currently installed for use at 157 patient beds with a goal of 700 by year’s end.

“It really is a significant lift to in one year implement this kind of technology across these rooms,” said Dr. Shawn Usery, senior vice president and system chief medical officer. “The physical challenges that puts on our team to get that many worked on and also with supply chain issues, really a one-year implementation is faster than either Philips or some of our partners thought we could do it.”

Making an investment
CoxHealth’s capital investment in the program is “in the neighborhood of $10 million,” Usery said.

“This is really a significant investment on part of the organization to move care in this direction,” he said, noting CoxHealth’s senior leadership and board of directors support the program.

Beth Polivka, vice president and system chief nursing officer, said CoxHealth’s technology investment doesn’t mean a reduction in its workforce, which was 12,825 employees systemwide in May, according to Springfield Business Journal list research.

“We don’t have fewer nurses taking care of patients with this technology implemented,” she said. “This is added support for the workforce, and it’s added support for patients.

“We feel it’s important that our virtual care team still understand what the bedside team does and our bedside team understand what the virtual care team does. We actually flow back and forth. Our staff has asked for that. Our staff still want to be at the bedside, but this is a change of pace for them. We want everybody to have experience with both.”

The virtual care team member only observes a patient on camera when requested – such as when a call light is pushed or a task is needed to be completed, according to officials. When virtual care is utilized, the patient or staff member is clearly notified. The virtual care technology goes beyond a computer’s camera system that patients and health care providers have utilized for years with virtual visits, Usery said.

“This technology is so advanced that – with the patient or staff member’s permission – the virtual care person will be able to view the room as you would in person,” said Gina Ellerbee, CoxHealth’s administrative director of nursing practice and professional development, in a news release. “They can zoom to see the patient’s pupils or observe oxygen flow meter settings on the wall. They will also have access to all of the patient’s vital signs and records, allowing them to observe trends and make recommendations based on those observations.”

Part of the investment was installation of a command center for the virtual care team, which allows for real-time collaboration and patient evaluation across the health system, Usery said. The center is located on the fifth floor of the west tower in Cox South.

“That was the previous home of our COVID ward. For a lot of us here in the health care system – a lot of our nurses, a lot of our physicians – that place is one we’ll always remember,” he said, noting the center consists of different workstations, including some for physicians, medical and surgical staff, ICU employees, respiratory therapists and pharmacists.

Usery said if a patient has a question about medication, for example, the technology allows a pharmacist in the command center to virtually appear in the room.

“If a pharmacist is going to come into your room because you want more information about your medication, there’s a doorbell that rings so that the patient or their family always know someone is visually coming into the room,” Usery said, noting the technology allows for quicker responses to on-the-fly questions.

Polivka said each station has up to eight computer monitors for staff to track patient data.

“They’re watching heart rhythms on one; they’ve got the electronic record on another,” she said, noting CoxHealth isn’t utilizing any third parties for its virtual care. “These are our employees. If I’m on a unit, the nurse who is my virtual nurse or the therapist or the pharmacist, these are the people I know. They are talking to a Cox pharmacist. It’s not a pharmacist in Alaska. That understanding for patients is way more enhanced.”

Positive pilot
CoxHealth began a pilot program for the technology in June 2022 across Cox South and Cox Medical Center Branson to introduce it to staff and patients. Through the program, there were improved patient outcomes through a reduction in areas such as patient falls, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and readmissions. Additionally, staff were positive about the new approach to care, Usery said, noting CoxHealth signed a contract with Philips in December to expand its investment.

Polivka said staff were attracted to the technology allowing greater support and collaboration. Additionally, she said it allows nurses and other staff who may not desire to provide bedside care full time a flexible option to continue their career.

Upon admission to the hospital, all patients receive information about the technology, Polivka said, adding they have the right to opt out.

“We have not had a single patient to date in the year that we’ve been piloting it or now that we’ve gone live who has opted out,” she said.

While CoxHealth officials didn’t have any exact patient usage data, Usery and Polivka said the current total exceeds 1,000 people.

“We believe this is the right thing for our patients and is the right thing for our employees,” Usery said. “That’s how we evaluated this.”

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