Lee Health Virtual Patient Observation Program Earns Innovation AwardBy: Caregility Team
The virtual sitter model is expected to net the health system more than $1.7M in annual ROI.
HIMSS South Florida chapter members gathered recently for the 11th annual Integrate Conference, where Caregility partner Lee Health was announced as the recipient of the 2022 Digital Transformation Innovation Award.
The award recognizes leading-edge ideas, research, products, and services that are empowering healthcare. Lee Health Advanced Application Analyst Kimberly Gault, RN, and System Director of Virtual Health and Telemedicine Jonathan Witenko were awarded the recognition based on the success of the health system’s virtual patient observation program.
The Problem: Limited Staff to Support Rising Demand for Patient Observation
Lee Health’s virtual patient observation program was developed to address a prevalent issue in healthcare: optimizing patient safety in the midst of clinical workforce shortages.
“We decided to pursue this initiative as we were experiencing staffing shortages with our bedside safety technicians,” explains Gault. As demand for observation of fall-risk and at-risk behavioral health patients rose within the health system, “we were having many patients go unwatched or having to pull clinical staff to accommodate requests.”
Patient fall scores were elevated and care teams were stretched thin as a result. That prompted Lee Health to look for a smarter way forward.
The Solution: Virtual Workflow Innovation
Lee Health turned to virtual observation as an alternative to its in-person sitter model. Using newly procured technology, including Caregility’s iObserver tele-sitting application and telehealth endpoint solutions, the team began developing innovative new workflows to create a sustainable solution that redefined how high-risk patients are monitored.
Running on the same platform the health system uses to support additional telemedicine initiatives, the new program enables two-way audio/video communication between virtual safety technicians, observation patients, family, interpreters, and clinical staff. Lee Health acquired 70 telehealth carts to support virtual observation at patient bedsides across the health system. A PRN-to-FTE model is used to staff the virtual safety technician role.
To implement the program, Lee Health made investments in:
- Staff training
- Technology (telehealth endpoints, workstation monitors, cameras, and headsets)
- Software licensing
- Wage increases to migrate virtual observation staff from PRN to FTE status
Internal clinical stakeholders collaborated with technical teams to build workflow and documentation processes. Educators from internal nursing units supported intervention and escalation process training for virtual safety technicians.
The Results: Quantifying the Impact of Digital Transformation
Prior to implementing virtual patient observation, Lee Health relied on baby monitors to support 1:4 observer-to-patient ratios. Under the new model, the health system was able to reach a 1:6 ratio, with plans to scale operations to support 1:8 observation.
“With this program, we are able to watch more patients per safety technician at a time,” says Gault. “We have expanded virtual patient observation to all of our acute care facilities and emergency departments and are now working on our Skilled Nursing and Rehab facilities.”
Minus implementation investments, the team reported a six-month program ROI of $280,260. That number is expected to blossom to $1,705,260 in the years ahead. The new approach allows the health system to leverage virtual staff resources instead of drawing from limited bedside staff.
Lessons Learned: Virtual Patient Observation Essentials
Gault points to securing CNO executive sponsorship, up-front funding and project approvals, and comprehensive pilot program and go-live support as crucial elements of program success.
Pushback from nursing staff and lack of communication with ancillary departments created some friction during Lee Health’s initial pilot program. To address these issues, the team amplified training and communication efforts to build stronger staff awareness and education prior to implementing virtual patient observation at additional facilities.
Lee Health executives view virtual patient observation as something health systems of any size can benefit from but encourage healthcare organizations to adopt flexible solutions that are easy to use and easily scale depending on program needs.
Caregility congratulates the Lee Health team on their well-deserved SFLHIMSS Innovation Award win! The health system’s virtual patient observation program is a shining example of how hybrid care innovation is enhancing and empowering bedside care.