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Windber, Pa., Hospital Is Creating 'Telehealth on Steroids'

The Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center in Windber, Pa., is in the process of developing a new telehealth program that aims to provide a higher quality of care. The program will help keep needed hospital beds open.

Doctor conducts telehealth appointment on a laptop
(TNS) — Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber is helping develop a "telehealth program on steroids," hospital President and CEO Tom Kurtz told Pennsylvania's top health official on Thursday.

Keara Klinepeter, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, visited the hospital on Thursday for a preview.

A few inactive prototype computer monitors were displayed in a conference room at the hospital's Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center. There are 30 more monitors installed in area facilities, including nursing homes, Kurtz said.

"These monitors — you are looking at a year's worth of research and development," Kurtz said. "You can put these things in an 80-year-old person's home and this thing will say, 'Mrs. Smith, in 15 minutes you will have your appointment,' and with the push of one green button, she's connected."

Klinepeter on Thursday said she saw the technology in use by a patient.

"I think Windber is really on the cutting edge of how to leverage telemedicine to ensure access to high-quality care," she said. "I am really excited to see them perform with it."

Kurtz said a technology company chose the 50-bed hospital in Windber to build its product because it didn't want to get bogged down in the bureaucracy that comes with partnering with a large academic medical center.

"Dten, a worldwide company, is our partner," he said. "They are also partners with Zoom. ... We are looking at this to serve as a model for the state. Dten is a great partner that is beta-siting this here at no expense to us. They are putting a lot of resources into this."

The technology in development in Windber could someday be adopted by hospitals across the state, he said.

Klinepeter said data shows that providing care in the home and early intervention improves the quality of care and patient outcomes.

"If you can have a physician or nurse check in on a patient with a push of a button," she said, "then you can catch things earlier or when symptoms are more mild. ... If we catch it sooner, they don't end up in the emergency department where there is a higher cost of care there."

Quality telehealth also keeps hospital beds open for patients in a pandemic situation.

"It's not feasible or practical for hospitals to start adding beds — every bed costs us $500,000," Kurtz said, "so it's not feasible to gear up for the next pandemic, but we learned we can keep people in their homes if we adopt the right technology."

The new telemedicine program will also allow collaboration among independent rural hospitals, Kurtz said: "We've signed clinical affiliations with Punxsutawney and Indiana hospitals where we are going to jointly recruit hard-to-find specialists. ... With this technology, a pulmonologist can sit in Indiana and serve patients in Punxsutawney or Windber."

Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Klinepeter acting secretary of health in December. Earlier in her career, she served as director of the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model, where she worked closely with the state's 16 independent rural hospitals, including Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center.

"I kept up with the rural hospitals because I was passionate about the work and stayed committed to each of them," she said. "What they are fighting for fundamentally is the ability to serve their community in a unique way that's woven into the fabric of rural Pennsylvania. I have a tremendous respect for that work."

Kurtz said more information about the new telehealth technology will be unveiled this summer.

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