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St. Luke’s continues to expand virtual emergency department services

By Laura Crawford, News and Community
May 3, 2021

People needing emergency health care will be able to access more of Idaho’s top health experts with an expanded approach taking hold across St. Luke’s Health System. 

Since April 27 in Wood River and Nampa, St. Luke’s emergency room patients have been able to tap into neurology, behavioral health, pediatrics, social work, critical care and nursing support specialists along with emergency physicians and nursing teams.

In some respects, there is the pandemic to thank. Over the past year, St. Luke’s has made increasing use of virtual services at varying levels and piloted expansion of some offerings. The pilot efforts have turned out to be so successful at improving patient outcomes, at lower costs, that St. Luke’s is permanently expanding the virtual services to all of its nine emergency departments. Now, virtual bedside consultations and extended support coordinated through St. Luke’s Virtual Care Center will be available in St. Luke’s emergency departments in McCall, Nampa, Fruitland, Mountain Home, Wood River, Magic Valley, Jerome, Meridian and Boise, along with the more traditional emergency care.

Live, two-way cameras, remote patient monitoring equipment and electronic health records connect physicians and specialists at the Boise center with emergency department beds to support diagnosis and treatment of patients often hundreds of miles and many mountain passes away.

Center doctors and nurses can monitor patients’ vital signs, closely watch critical patients to support onsite caregivers, order tests as needed, read results and provide needed expertise. The real-time access can make all the difference in helping to determine if a patient can be safely discharged home, managed at a local hospital, stabilized prior to transport and/or appropriately transferred for a higher level of care.  

The necessary equipment and technology have been installed, and expanded virtual services are expected to be rolled out to all sites over the next several months. Wood River and Nampa will be the first to formally come online, followed by McCall, Fruitland, Elmore, Jerome, Magic Valley, Meridian and Boise.  

“These expanded emergency department services are such an important effort to standardize care across all St. Luke’s emergency departments,” said Krista Stadler, St. Luke’s Health System senior director of telehealth. “Any patient who walks in the doors of any St. Luke’s emergency department should know they are getting the same level of care, no matter if their location is in the city or in the mountains.”

St. Luke’s Virtual Care Center opened in August of 2018 after years of gradual expansion within certain areas of care. It was the region’s first “virtual hospital,” designed to provide access to top specialty and emergency providers given historic clinician shortages and the region’s rural character.

Located inside St. Luke's Plaza in downtown Boise, the 35,000-square-foot center is a high-tech hub where a 24/7 centralized medical team of up to 350 clinicians and specialists use technology care for patients at clinics, hospitals and homes throughout Idaho and Eastern Oregon. 

Telehealth has existed for years at St. Luke's, but has consistently evolved into a vital part of all services, particularly in the last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 200,000 clinic visits have been conducted via telehealth since March 2020.

For Stadler and her team, expanding services is in keeping with the reason St. Luke’s exists.

“This is the kind of work that aligns with best practice and extends our mission of improving the health of the communities we serve by providing the right care in the right place at the right time,” she said.

About The Author

Laura Crawford works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.