Academic medical center University of Utah (U of U) Health, based in Salt Lake City, has five hospitals and twelve clinics serving communities across a six-state Mountain West region of the US, along with a thriving education and research practice. Like many health systems, it faced daunting operational and economic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unpredictable rates and patterns of infection made it hard to plan for ICU and hospital bed capacity, while the shutdown of many on-site clinical services threatened to cause significant revenue loss.
Faced with these challenges, U of U Health proactively pursued strategies driven by data visualization technology, and predictive analytics to find ways of providing the best care and patient outcomes while remaining solvent as a business. This effort amounted to a giant acceleration of the health system's digital transformation.
“We really did about 5-10 years' worth of advancement in just a couple of months,” said Charlton Park, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Analytics Officer at University of Utah Health. “Like so many other clinics and institutions, the pandemic hit us hard, and there wasn't time to build a whole new practice from scratch—we had to ramp up using the infrastructure we already had.”
In the case of replacing revenue and care opportunities potentially lost due to the shutdown, that meant taking U of U Health's nascent telehealth program from 800 or so monthly remote visits—mostly urgent care sessions at the community clinics and pre-op/follow-up consulting for some specialty care—to more than 11,000 telehealth visits per week across all locations at the pandemic's peak. Since reopening some services for in-person care, U of U Health has seen its telehealth model continue to thrive. “Our clinicians and patients have truly embraced this remote method of interaction,” said Park. “Even today, our telehealth workload is around 5,000-6,000 visits weekly, and we expect it to stay at the level going forward.”