Since it was established in 2017, the MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center (MTIC) has worked to expand upon more than a decade of foundational telehealth work at MedStar Health. In February 2020, MedStar Health conducted an average daily total of seven outpatient telehealth sessions, in addition to the majority of telehealth sessions delivered in the inpatient setting. Roughly two each week were scheduled outpatient video visits, with most patients traveling in-person to their regularly scheduled healthcare appointments or using the urgent care telehealth platform, MedStar eVisit.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, however, MedStar Health providers and patients were faced with the new reality that in-person care for routine and non-urgent needs could contribute to the spread of COVID-19. In order to maintain the health of the communities the system serves while protecting both patients and providers from coronavirus exposure, MedStar Health prioritized rapidly scaling telehealth solutions in its immediate COVID-19 response as well as in its preparation for a changed post-pandemic healthcare landscape.
A multidisciplinary team built MedStar Health Video Visits in five days during the pandemic to offer scheduled video visits at scale, and then rolled it out to more than 4,000 providers in one week.
New or existing patients can schedule these visits just as they would an in-person visit—via a phone call to their provider’s office or a message via their myMedStar Patient Portal. At the time of their appointment, patients enter the platform via a link texted or emailed by their provider right before their visit begins.
The MedStar Health Video Visits service was built with Bluestream Health, a strategic technology partner that began collaborating with MedStar Health in 2016. Initially, the system’s work with Bluestream Health focused on business to business (B2B) solutions that allowed for increased efficiency in collaboration among providers and across medical specialties within MedStar Health (e.g., teletriage). In response to the COVID-19 crisis, however, Bluestream quickly pivoted the same technology for business to consumer (B2C) use. As Bluestream has described it, the B2C offering is a lighter version of Bluestream that has been offered for free to small providers during the crisis—and MedStar Health was its first enterprise B2C customer. In rolling this out, they were focused on what the user needs to deploy a lower touch solution.
In addition to MedStar Health’s existing telehealth infrastructure and expertise that enabled the team to hit ground running, three elements of Bluestream’s technology made the rapid scaling of MedStar Health Video Visits possible during the crisis and will help make it sustainable beyond the pandemic as well:
Ease of patient use: Because Bluestream’s technology is browser-based, patients are not required to download software and can access the service on a broad array of devices and operating systems with very few clicks.
Ease of provider use: The tool requires very little training, which made it possible to prepare thousands of MedStar Health providers for virtual appointments within a month of the service’s launch, combined with the cultural and regulatory changes the crisis brought.
Security: Rather than connecting to a central server, Bluestream offers peer-to-peer encrypting in a browser. Though this limits interactions to three-way video, this encryption made it possible to scale quickly while maintaining the security of patients and the MedStar Health system.
The MedStar Health Video Visits activity is now an important part of a broader telehealth picture at MedStar Health. MedStar eVisit is on-demand urgent care by video, available to patients 24/7/365, and is powered by a different technology platform. Additionally, critical inpatient/facility-based (eConsult) and remote patient monitoring telehealth activities are also conducted, some of which also include Bluestream.
Just one week after the launch of MedStar Health Video Visits, 425 providers delivered 1,236 scheduled video visits in a single day. By the end of the first full month of the service (March 23 through April 22), more than 2,070 MedStar Health providers had completed 51,731 visits. The platform reached the peak daily volume of its first two months of operation on May 12 with 4,326 visits completed by 1,026 providers. Within its first four months, providers had delivered more than 250,000 MedStar Health Video Visits, representing around 80% of total MedStar Health telehealth sessions. The MedStar Health and Bluestream teams strive to continually improve upon this offering to benefit patients/families and providers.
In reflecting on this success, the MTIC team has emphasized that the core technology Bluestream provided is very easy and secure for the patient and the provider—and that MTIC and the system had the telehealth and care delivery expertise to wrap the services around that (e.g., workflow, billing). This exponential growth is also a testament to the incredible resilience of MedStar Health providers and patients, as well as the importance of the policy environment.
MedStar Health Video Visits will remain available after the height of the COVID-19 crisis, and the system is witnessing more patients and providers than ever before recognizing the quality, cost effectiveness, and patient experience benefits of this care. MTIC and all of MedStar Health hope to see the right cultural and regulatory support of telehealth continue.
July 2021 Update
As we begin fiscal year 2022, MedStar Health Video Visits continue to play a key role in providing quality health care to our patients. In the first year of the pandemic response, it was estimated that 616,000 MedStar Health Video Visit sessions were delivered, with more than 6,300 providers using the platform during that period. Patient experience ratings also continued to be excellent, with more than 200,000 responses received for the supporting platform and providers and average star ratings at 4.7 out of 5.0 or higher.
Page last updated: 7/1/21
Page first published: 8/6/20
The team rapidly launched and scaled a new scheduled video visits platform during the COVID-19 pandemic
MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center