Telehealth: An Integral Part of Healthcare System in the New Normal

Telehealth: An Integral Part of Healthcare System in the New Normal

Nan Nicponski, Executive Director, Intermountain Healthcare

Nan Nicponski, Executive Director, Intermountain Healthcare

Can you share your journey in the healthcare industry? Could you mention some of the biggest challenges prevailing in the sector today?

I have been working as a registered nurse for the last 33 years and currently serving as the executive director of the Provider Support Services in Intermountain Healthcare’s Connect Care service, which we also refer to as our virtual hospital. 

From my perspective, I can say that the biggest challenge the healthcare sector faces now is the critical staffing shortage. Most of the healthcare workforce across the board, including nurses, physicians, pharmacists, and therapists, have been quitting from the sectorover the past few years, creating a significant shortage in the availability of clinical staff. 

What are some ongoing trends you see in the healthcare industry? What are their impacts on delivering care?

One of the significant trends in the healthcare space is telehealth, which has made a convincing case for why it has to be considered an integral part of the healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that telehealth could provide adequate tools to care for patients close to their homes. Telehealth is benefitting both providers as well as patients on that front. For instance, it has improved our efficiency in providing care by letting us consult more patients on a given day. It also enables patients to receive care at home without traveling long distances. It notably contributes to patient safety in many rural hospitals that don’t have access to tertiary type subspecialty care.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that telehealth could provide adequate tools to care for patients close to their homes.”

When we take care of patients in their own homes or closer to their homes, there is a significant reduction in the overall healthcare costs, including the expenditure involved when a patient is placed in a tertiary care facility, oftentimes very far. There is a decrease in local economic costs as patients can remain in their own communities. There is also an environmental improvement as the patients don’t have to travel unnecessarily for treatment. All in all, providing care to patients where, when, and how they want to receive it dramatically brings down healthcare costs.

How do you envision the healthcare landscape 12 to 18 months down the line? What are some of the latest projects you have been working on? 

I think traditional hospital care will be moving more and more to the higher acuity, tertiary level of care. Meanwhile, care provided in a smaller community hospital or the patient's home via telehealth will continue to grow.

In 2018, we developed a strategy to open a virtual hospital and integrated our telehealth services with patient access services like transfer centers, patient placement, and transport services. As a result, we serve as a Healthcare Command Center that can support the logistics of providing virtual care as well as transporting patients to a higher level of care from a clinic, home, or a smaller community hospital. From Intermountain Healthcare’s standpoint, that has been a very remarkable achievement.

Is there any piece of advice that you want to give your peers in the field?

My advice would be to consider aligning telehealth services closely with patient access, transfer, placement, and transport services. This alignment has worked well for us in moving patients to the appropriate level of care and optimizing the use of our hospital resources, especially during the pandemic. 

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