The team rapidly launched and scaled a new scheduled video visits platform during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center
Since it was established in 2017, the MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center (MTIC) has worked to expand upon more than a decade of foundational telehealth work at MedStar Health. In February 2020, MedStar Health conducted an average daily total of seven outpatient telehealth sessions, in addition to the majority of telehealth sessions delivered in the inpatient setting. Roughly two each week were scheduled outpatient video visits, with most patients traveling in-person to their regularly scheduled healthcare appointments or using the urgent care telehealth platform, MedStar eVisit.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, however, MedStar Health providers and patients were faced with the new reality that in-person care for routine and non-urgent needs could contribute to the spread of COVID-19. In order to maintain the health of the communities the system serves while protecting both patients and providers from coronavirus exposure, MedStar Health prioritized rapidly scaling telehealth solutions in its immediate COVID-19 response as well as in its preparation for a changed post-pandemic healthcare landscape.
A multidisciplinary team built MedStar Health Video Visits in five days during the pandemic to offer scheduled video visits at scale, and then rolled it out to more than 4,000 providers in one week.
New or existing patients can schedule these visits just as they would an in-person visit—via a phone call to their provider’s office or a message via their myMedStar Patient Portal. At the time of their appointment, patients enter the platform via a link texted or emailed by their provider right before their visit begins.
The MedStar Health Video Visits service was built with Bluestream Health, a strategic technology partner that began collaborating with MedStar Health in 2016. Initially, the system’s work with Bluestream Health focused on business to business (B2B) solutions that allowed for increased efficiency in collaboration among providers and across medical specialties within MedStar Health (e.g., teletriage). In response to the COVID-19 crisis, however, Bluestream quickly pivoted the same technology for business to consumer (B2C) use. As Bluestream has described it, the B2C offering is a lighter version of Bluestream that has been offered for free to small providers during the crisis—and MedStar Health was its first enterprise B2C customer. In rolling this out, they were focused on what the user needs to deploy a lower touch solution.
In addition to MedStar Health’s existing telehealth infrastructure and expertise that enabled the team to hit ground running, three elements of Bluestream’s technology made the rapid scaling of MedStar Health Video Visits possible during the crisis and will help make it sustainable beyond the pandemic as well:
- Ease of patient use: Because Bluestream’s technology is browser-based, patients are not required to download software and can access the service on a broad array of devices and operating systems with very few clicks.
- Ease of provider use: The tool requires very little training, which made it possible to prepare thousands of MedStar Health providers for virtual appointments within a month of the service’s launch, combined with the cultural and regulatory changes the crisis brought.
- Security: Rather than connecting to a central server, Bluestream offers peer-to-peer encrypting in a browser. Though this limits interactions to three-way video, this encryption made it possible to scale quickly while maintaining the security of patients and the MedStar Health system.
The MedStar Health Video Visits activity is now an important part of a broader telehealth picture at MedStar Health. MedStar eVisit is on-demand urgent care by video, available to patients 24/7/365, and is powered by a different technology platform. Additionally, critical inpatient/facility-based (eConsult) and remote patient monitoring telehealth activities are also conducted, some of which also include Bluestream.
Just one week after the launch of MedStar Health Video Visits, 425 providers delivered 1,236 scheduled video visits in a single day. By the end of the first full month of the service (March 23 through April 22), more than 2,070 MedStar Health providers had completed 51,731 visits. The platform reached the peak daily volume of its first two months of operation on May 12 with 4,326 visits completed by 1,026 providers. Within its first four months, providers had delivered more than 250,000 MedStar Health Video Visits, representing around 80% of total MedStar Health telehealth sessions. The MedStar Health and Bluestream teams strive to continually improve upon this offering to benefit patients/families and providers.
In reflecting on this success, the MTIC team has emphasized that the core technology Bluestream provided is very easy and secure for the patient and the provider—and that MTIC and the system had the telehealth and care delivery expertise to wrap the services around that (e.g., workflow, billing). This exponential growth is also a testament to the incredible resilience of MedStar Health providers and patients, as well as the importance of the policy environment.
MedStar Health Video Visits will remain available after the height of the COVID-19 crisis, and the system is witnessing more patients and providers than ever before recognizing the quality, cost effectiveness, and patient experience benefits of this care. MTIC and all of MedStar Health hope to see the right cultural and regulatory support of telehealth continue.
- PR Newswire, Bluestream and 2,300+ Small and Large Health Providers Combat COVID-19 with Free Virtual Care Solution (March 24)
- The Baltimore Sun, Maryland hospitals join other health care offices in turning to telemedicine during coronavirus fight (April 20)
- WJZ 13, Coronavirus Response: Doctors Connect With Patients Through Video Calls (April 20)
- CNN affiliate stations nationwide, Surgery Patient Using Telemedicine (April 29)
- U.S. News & World Report, Innovative Telehealth Programs Across Medical Specialties (May 8)
- Healthcare IT News, How MedStar Health went from 2 to 4,150 daily telehealth visits in two months (May 14)
- Healthcare IT News, Telehealth set for 'tsunami of growth,' says Frost & Sullivan (May 15)
- mHealth Intelligence, COVID-19 Gives Providers a Blueprint for New Telehealth Strategies (May 18)
- Healthcare Innovation, From Hundreds of Telehealth Visits to 100K: Behind MedStar’s Virtual Care Surge (May 21)
- Georgetown University Medical Center, Learning ‘Webside Manner’: Georgetown Medical Students Step Up as Telehealth Needs Surge (May 28)
- Home Health Care News, How MedStar Health Went from 10 Virtual Visits Per Week — to 4,000 Per Day (June 10)
- Health Leaders, From Skeptic To Fan: A Medstar Plastic Surgeon Shares His Journey Into Telehealth (July 2)
- MedStar Institute for Innovation News Feed, MI2’s MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center fuels system delivery of 100,000+ telehealth sessions during COVID-19 response by May 1, 2020 (July 16)
- MedStar Institute for Innovation News Feed, FCC awarded MedStar Health close to $1 million to advance telehealth response to COVID-19 crisis (July 16)
MedStar Institute for Innovation News Feed, MedStar Health Shares COVID-19 Telehealth Insights in Two Recent Publications (July 21)
- Healthcare Innovation, The Telehealth Tidal Wave Has Arrived; Will It Come Crashing Down? (July 22)
- MedStar Washington Hospital Center Center View blog post, Telehealth: The Care You Need—Without Leaving Home
This page was published August 6, 2020.