When Bill Ring was diagnosed with a severe urinary tract infection, he thought he would have to go to the hospital to be admitted for treatment. Then his primary care physician at Atrius Health suggested the Medically Home Program.
“After I agreed to the service everything worked fast and efficiently,” says Ring. “They sent a technical person to set up the equipment in my apartment and he explained exactly how it would work. They had a tablet with 24-hour monitoring plus a 24-hour landline phone. They even brought their own Wi-Fi. Nurses came [to my apartment] twice a day to administer the antibiotics which they kept in my refrigerator. Vital signs were taken twice a day. I was very impressed with them and it was certainly a lot easier than going to a hospital.”
The Medically Home program that Ring and many others have used is the creation of the Center for Innovation at Atrius Health, working with a start-up called Medically Home. For the past four years, the Atrius Health innovation center has designed and built solutions to transform care for Atrius Health patients. Frequently, these solutions use technology to bridge the gap between traditional care and the needs of patients in a consumer-driven world.
“We had been able to create great access for patients with our 30 locations, but if they for any reason couldn’t get into the office, we couldn’t help them,” says Eliza “Pippa” Shulman, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation.
They started with research. Clinicians involved in the innovation center talked to employees throughout the organization to determine what could be done better. They also conducted surveys and interviews with patients both in the waiting rooms and in their homes to figure out how they could be better served. Once they identified specific “pain points,” they began to innovate.
“We bring patients in at every step of the process so that if we’re prototyping something, we have patients involved in the testing to see how they respond and determine if it’s really meeting their needs,” says Dr. Shulman. This process has led to the development of a number of cutting-edge programs that give patients even better access to Atrius Health’s great care.
The Medically Home program that Ring used launched in April of 2017 when the innovation team realized that certain medical issues usually monitored in-hospital could be safely managed at home.
“Things like pneumonia, skin infections or urinary tract infections are well-suited for home-based management,” says Dr. Shulman. “Atrius Health physicians are actually caring for hospitalized patients at home using a whole suite of technology and monitoring.”
If a patient has an appropriate condition and the right insurance and chooses to be treated via this “virtual hospital,” technicians install all of the equipment needed for medical supervision in the comfort of home—including tablets, a landline phone, biometric monitoring equipment, and a dedicated internet connection meant to support these systems.
“Then we have a medical command center where the physicians and nurses direct the care,” says Dr. Shulman. “We do video visits with the patients using digital stethoscopes assisted by clinicians such as nurses in the home. And then many different kinds of caregivers go in the home depending on what is being treated including infusion nurses, therapists, and nurse practitioners. We send meals, and medical equipment and supplies.”
The Medically Home Program isn’t Atrius Health’s only in-home offering. The Care in Place program, which will be relaunching in mid-2020, will bring clinicians to the homes of people with acute health issues, allowing patients to avoid urgent care facilities or emergency rooms. And while many telehealth programs are in the pilot phase, a video-based mental health counseling service has launched with great success.
All of these programs help bring healthcare into patients’ homes without increasing the workload of clinicians.
“One of the constraints we put on all of our projects is that the project needs to make work for our clinicians easier, not more complicated,” says Dr. Shulman. “We involve physicians, nurses, and medical secretaries in trying out new solutions. Do they fit with the current workflow? We don’t want to make something that’s so hard to use that it doesn’t fit in with a busy practice.”
As needs in healthcare evolve, so will Atrius Health, thanks to the continued efforts of the clinicians in the innovation center.
“We want to make it easy for patients to receive well-coordinated, high-quality care from a system that runs really well,” says Dr. Shulman. “Healthcare is complex and can be hard to access and we’re trying to ease that for our patients and their families.”
To help support Atrius Health’s vision of transforming care to improve lives, please consider a donation to the Atrius Health Foundation. The Atrius Health Foundation and Atrius Health are non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations.