Is Telemedicine the Future of Care?

Mercy Virtual has been called a hospital without patients, and the description is both true and false. There are neither beds nor patients in the gleaming four-story medical facility, which opened in late 2015 in Chesterfield, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. But the facility is a hub of very real care for very real patients, in hospital beds and at home.

Part of the Mercy health care system, which spans 44 hospitals in the Midwest, Mercy Virtual is the incarnation in bricks and mortar of what has generally been consigned to the ether: virtual care.

Also referred to as telemedicine or telehealth, virtual care involves the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by medical experts who are miles or even continents away. Heralded as a way to save money while providing quality care for patients who might not otherwise have access to specialists, telemedicine has exploded in growth during the past decade. One report claims that, globally, telemedicine will be a $36.2 billion industry by 2020, up from $14.3 billion in 2014. This new approach to health care is of particular importance to older Americans, because it creates the potential of putting a virtual doctor or nurse right into the homes of patients, as frequently as needed, monitoring their health and making real-time diagnoses and treatment adjustments.

While many health care providers are developing elaborate virtual-care operations, no other single initiative to date reaches the grand scale exemplified by Mercy Virtual, the first built-from-scratch virtual-care center in America. With a team of more than 700 physicians, nurses and support staff serving 750,000-plus patients last year, Mercy Virtual is an experiment in telemedicine writ large.

But does it work? Click here to find out.

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