“As a hospitalist, I believe that my specialty improves care for inpatients,” said Ethan Kuperman, MD, MS, FHM, clinical associate professor of medicine at University of Iowa Health Care in Iowa City. “I want hospitalists involved with as many hospitals as possible because I believe we will lead to better patient outcomes.”
But, he adds, it’s not feasible to place dedicated hospitalists in every rural hospital in the United States – especially those running far below the average hospitalist census. “As a university, academic hospitalist, I wanted to make sure that the innovations and knowledge of the University of Iowa could penetrate into the greater community, and I wanted to strengthen the continuity of care between our partners in rural Iowa and our physical location in Iowa City,” he said.
Enter the virtual hospitalist: A telemedicine “virtual hospitalist” may expand capabilities at a fractional cost of an on-site provider.
Dr. Kuperman’s 6-month pilot program provided “virtual hospitalist” coverage to patients at a critical access hospital in rural Iowa.
“Our rural partners want to ensure that they are providing high-quality care within their communities and aren’t transferring patients without a good indication to larger centers,” he said. “For patients, this program means more of them can remain in their communities, surrounded by their families. I don’t think the virtual hospitalist program delivers equivalent care to the university hospital – I think we deliver better care because of that continuity with local providers and the ability of patients to remain in contact with their support structures.”
The study concludes that the virtual hospitalist model increased the percentage of ED patients who could safely receive their care locally, and a single virtual hospitalist may be able to cover multiple critical access hospitals simultaneously.
“We have the technology to deliver hospitalist expertise to rural hospitals through telehealth in a way that benefits patients, rural hospitals, and academic hospitals,” he said.
Kuperman E et al. The Virtual Hospitalist: A single-site implementation bringing hospitalist coverage to critical access hospitals. Journal of Hospital Medicine. Published online first 2018 Sep 26.. Accessed 2018 Oct 2.