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During a demonstration Tuesday at Parkview’s Digital Care Center, Tamia Collins, virtual care technician, monitors Taylor Thompson, a fellow virtual care technician who is acting as a patient.

If you become a patient at one of Parkview Health’s hospitals, you may wind up being on TV.

It’s only closed-circuit TV, so don’t expect an Emmy. But, by having specialized nurses and technicians able to observe patients virtually via cameras and TV monitors, Parkview hopes to cut the risk of adverse health outcomes.

Tuesday, Parkview officials announced their newly expanded Digital Care Center, which combines a new Virtual Care Center with an existing Virtual Health Department at a single site in Fort Wayne.

The address is not being disclosed because the site is not open to the public, officials said.

The Digital Care Center now serves Parkview Regional Medical Center in northern Allen County and Parkview Randallia northeast of downtown.

Eventually, the digital center will serve all 10 Parkview hospitals, officials said in a news release. The first site outside of Allen County, at Parkview Whitley County, is expected to be in operation in mid-November.

Megan Hubartt, a spokeswoman for Lutheran Health, said remote observation technology for patients at risk for falls was implemented at Lutheran network facilities earlier this year, including Dupont, Lutheran, Lutheran Downtown, Lutheran Orthopedic and Lutheran Rehabilitation hospitals. "Lutheran Health Network is committed to continued investments in technology that supports our caregivers' work and keeps our patients safe," Hubartt said in an email.

Parkview’s virtual health department, in existence since 2020, works with the MyChart and Parkview On Demand online options that patients can use to learn about their care and Parkview services.

The Virtual Care Center is staffed by critical care nurses who monitor patient data for early signs of sepsis, an infection complication that can quickly become dangerous or deadly.

The Virtual Care Center also has virtual technicians trained to use continuous video monitoring – known informally as virtual sitting – to keep an eye on patients who are at risk for falling or harm.

The nurses and technicians can quickly notify the bedside staff of emergencies or other situations needing attention, said Michelle Charles, Parkview’s chief nursing informatics officer.

“This team will maximize our resources and effectively monitor multiple inpatients to address their needs more quickly,” she said.

Max Maile, senior vice president for digital health, said virtual monitoring is put in place only after an order from a nurse based on a screening tool and patient history.

No audio or video is recorded to protect patient privacy, although a microphone allows staffers at the remote location to talk to patients.

“We’re not trying to be creepy. We’re not there to spy on patients,” Maile said. The service is used only to augment the eyes and ears of bedside caregivers, he said.

Although Charles points to cost savings from using the technology, officials said it won’t reduce the nursing staff on the hospital floor. The program now has six nurses with a capacity for 60. The capacity for technicians is 24.

Virtual care is not yet being used with pediatric patients, officials said.

Parkview officials said virtual care has been shown to shorten hospital stays, reduce burnout among nurses and increase patient satisfaction.

Maile said the new technology helps recruit nurses by offering a career path for those who may not want to stay in bedside care for their whole career. Families also feel more comfortable when they know a virtual presence is looking out for their loved one, he said.

Parkview officials said virtual care may someday allow the staff to interact with patients via the television in their rooms, provide education and speed discharges.

“We are excited to implement services that will enhance hospital care and look forward to seeing the additional ways we can use virtual health to deliver excellent care,” Maile said.

Reporter

Reporter Rosa Salter Rodriguez has nearly 50 years of experience at newspapers in Pennsylvania and Indiana. She has worked at The Journal Gazette since 2004, covering medical and health issues and land use and development issues.