How we helped expand telehealth specialty care in East Tennessee

BlueCrossBlueCross articles

BCBST News Center, Alison Sexter, August 26, 2020

Community hospitals, especially those in outlying areas, often face challenges providing specialty care. But in East Tennessee, BlueCross strategic partner Covenant Health is using telehealth services to offer more advanced treatment for patients who need them. And we helped make it happen.

BlueCross supported the health system’s ongoing initiative with an $875,000 innovation grant. It’s part of our larger strategy to help provider partners improve access to care and the patient experience.

How telehealth works

Telehealth helps fill the specialty care gap by enabling providers to use electronic information and video calls to work with patients, offering services like clinical assessments and consultations.

Covenant Health’s physician specialists, such as neurohospitalists, critical care intensivists and neonatologists, can virtually “visit” patient bedsides in the system’s community hospitals. Providers at different locations can collaborate on patient care plans and share information, leading to more consistent care and faster decision making.

The platform can save critical time and improve care in emergency situations.  If a patient presents stroke or brain injury symptoms, physicians can use virtual care technology instead of transferring them to another facility for a neurological evaluation.

“With the addition of telehealth, if a patient comes to a Covenant Health hospital outside Knoxville we can provide support remotely for emergency room physicians and the staff there to help assess and care for that patient,” says Arthur Moore, M.D., medical director of the accredited Comprehensive Stroke Center at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, which serves as the hub of the area’s only stroke hospital network.

“It’s a way of bringing the neurologist to the patient rather than patient to the neurologist.”

Covenant Health has already invested more than $500,000 in telehealth technology, with a plan to expand the capabilities to more of their hospitals and specialties. The BlueCross grant allows them to buy new equipment for telehealth services at several of the system’s locations, including:

  • LeConte Medical Center
  • Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System
  • Fort Loudoun Medical Center
  • Roane Medical Center

“Our vision is that patients at any Covenant Health hospital will have access to the care they need, regardless of whether the hospital is one of our larger Knoxville-area facilities or whether it’s a community hospital in another part of our region,” said Jim VanderSteeg, president and CEO of Covenant Health.

“We are grateful for the collaborative relationship we have with Covenant, and we welcome the opportunity to support their expansion of telehealth,” says Scott Pierce, executive vice president and chief operating officer for BlueCross. “And we’re glad to help make specialized care more accessible to our members in East Tennessee.”

Tech connection, real-world benefits

Virtual technology maximizes the effectiveness and availability of specialists, often reducing the need to transfer patients to larger facilities. This makes care easier and more convenient for BlueCross members. It also allows family and friends to be close to their loved ones. And if a transfer is needed, telehealth communication helps make it happen more quickly and smoothly.

Covenant leaders have found that patients and families appreciate the new capability.

“We sent out surveys, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Dr. Moore says. “I think we are just starting to see what telemedicine capabilities can support. Patients in outlying facilities are going to have access to [a variety of] specialists they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

“It’s another way we can continue providing the highest level of patient care possible at all of our member hospitals.”

Read on the BCBST News Center.