Virtual patient care has existed as long as there have been doctors willing to give verbal orders over the phone. Telemedicine technology has come a long way, however, evolving from the telephone to pagers to smartphones that use text messaging and HIPAA-compliant apps.

We can trace the first instance of telemedicine in hospital-based settings to the 1950s and early 1960s when closed-circuit television was used in psychiatric consultations. Its clinical value quickly expanded to include ancillary services, such as teleradiology, tele-ICU, and telestroke.

Now, telehospitalist programs take center stage—and they are no longer reserved just for overnight shift coverage.

How Telehospitalist Programs Change the Game

The telehospitalist program’s impact on healthcare has been a game-changer—and that is no truer than now. Telemedicine in the COVID-19 era enables providers to provide inpatient care to any facility remotely 24/7.

Besides that, telehospitalist programs benefit hospitals and patients by easing the burden on recruiting (the telehospitalist can work from home), reducing physician burnout, providing backup support for surges, coordinating patient care, and improving patient experience and provider satisfaction.

Traditionally, telehospitalists have been thought of as a nighttime service to supplement in-person, clinical care and coverage gaps, but that is changing. Jackie Newman, Senior Vice President of eHealth at SCP Health, explained, “The 24/7 model of telehealth support is a game-changer in innovative Hospital Medicine staffing.”

SCP Health, which launched a telemedicine program in 2015 to cover overnight shifts, is now offering a new 24/7 telehealth physician service to help hospitals and health systems achieve more efficient physician scheduling at significant cost savings.

Benefits of 24/7 Telehospitalist Services

The shift to the 24/7 telehospitalist model offers several benefits to a hospital.

Provides Dedicated Support

The telehospitalist is dedicated to a single facility. That means patients receive the doctor’s full attention, care, and time investment with no distractions. Sadye Nichols, RN, MSN, a Regional Vice President with SCP Health with extensive experience implementing and managing telehospitalist programs, said, “This ensures that the daytime telehospitalist program meets the patients’ needs and exceptional care is delivered, just as an in-person clinician delivers. The collaboration with the onsite team is seamless.”

Facilitates Real-time Communication

The daytime telehospitalist is accessible to speak with the family—whether they are at the hospital or remote (as is the case during COVID-19)—to bridge communication gaps more effectively, proactively update family members daily, and be more available for incoming questions.

Improves Patient Experience

The 24/7 telehospitalist availability improves patient experience at the hospital because it breaks up the caseload for an in-person physician, offers an equal standard of care, and allows all providers (in-person and remote) to be more focused on each patient.

Telehospitalist Program Success Essentials

Felixia Colon, MBA, FACHE, Senior Vice President of Operations at SCP Health, has also been integral in supporting SCP’s partner hospitals in adopting telehealth. She noted that making the 24/7 telehospitalist program approach a success requires a great deal of planning and training.

“Planning a telehospitalist’s patient assignment must be done in advance based on factors, such as census and acuity,” Colon said. “Telehospitalists work anywhere from a four to 12-hour shift. This is scalable and offers increments for average daily encounters and intervention needs.”

“Training includes both telehospitalists and support staff—people designated to navigate the cart—a role both clinical and nonclinical people can fill,” Nichols added. 

Daytime telehospitalists also give the hospital strong “boots on the ground” support.

Taking on lower acuity patients means in-person providers can focus their time and energy on those with higher acuity. Telehospitalists are matched with providers in the facility to form strong case teams. They also work closely with nurses to determine the best rounding times.

Coordinating handoffs is another crucial factor in 24/7 telehospitalist success.

“Handoffs require a ton of coordination and collaboration,” Nichols stressed. “Telehospitalists must be clear about their assignment, their workflow, and how nurses can get in touch with them quickly and easily to review plans for emergency situations—what will happen if a rapid response is needed.”

24/7 Telehospitalist In Action

The 24/7 telehospitalist program is already seeing success at several facilities.

For example, a 49-bed community hospital served by SCP Health tailored a rounding strategy to create more ease and efficiency for the nursing staff. The plan incorporated the telehospitalist into multidisciplinary rounds to develop enhanced communication and collaboration within the care team.

In another case, a 40-bed, short-term, acute care facility had a telehospitalist available for surge situations, including those related to the pandemic. The collaboration between the onsite and remote physician enabled the hospital to address varying acuities and volumes appropriately.

Conclusion

The telehospitalist’s role is relegated to nighttime shifts no longer. Expanding coverage around the clock lets hospitals experience benefits that include dedicated staff support, real-time communication, and improved patient experience and provider satisfaction.

SCP Health is currently deploying 24/7 telehospitalists in hospitals and health systems across the United States (a service powered by technology partner, SOC Telemed).

Isn’t it time your hospital added a 24/7 telehospitalist program to your clinical service lines?

To learn more about how SCP Health can help, contact business_development@scp-health.com.  

If you are a physician interested in becoming part of this innovative new program, visit the telehospitalist page on our website.