MUSC Center for Telehealth Demonstrates Resilient Response to COVID-19

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When faced with challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Telehealth at the Medical University of South Carolina was well prepared to draw upon the latest telehealth technologies and existing telehealth infrastructure to provide efficient care without compromising public health. Thanks to the generous support of the South Carolina Legislature, the Center for Telehealth was able to quickly identify opportunities to leverage telehealth and meet the needs of providers and patients while also remaining compliant with social distancing recommendations. In many cases, the Center pivoted and/or accelerated previously established telehealth strategic objectives to quickly respond to patient and provider needs. 

Demand for telehealth increased exponentially during the COVID-19 crisis, and fortunately the MUSC Center for Telehealth was able to support MUSC Health in rapidly standing up telehealth programs across the care continuum to meet the need. MUSC Health quickly established virtual COVID-19 screenings with referral to remote specimen collection sites as appropriate, as well as a remote patient monitoring program for COVID-positive patients. The Center also repurposed its existing continuous virtual monitoring telesitter equipment to monitor COVID-positive and suspected COVID-positive hospitalized patients, enabling care team members to monitor and communicate with patients via an audiovisual connection. This novel application of telesitter equipment both minimizes unnecessary health care worker exposure and preserves personal protective equipment. 

Consistent investments from the South Carolina Legislature supplied the Center for Telehealth with a strong telehealth infrastructure that proved invaluable to the COVID-19 response. Fortunately, creative thinking provided an even broader range of viable tools by reimagining and integrating existing devices and software for the purpose of responding to COVID-19. The Center for Telehealth supported MUSC Health in transitioning ambulatory care and mental health care to telecare systems by onboarding over 2,000 providers and 100 ambulatory clinics in total. While this effort of onboarding new providers to telehealth platforms was a substantial undertaking, it was well received and accepted by providers and patients.

The impressive and rapid telehealth response to COVID-19 in South Carolina was largely thanks to the efforts of South Carolina Telehealth Alliance (SCTA) partners and the generous continued funding from the state. The MUSC Center for Telehealth functions as the administrative headquarters of the SCTA, which is a statewide collaboration of many organizations joining forces to expand telehealth services in South Carolina. As a collective, SCTA partners conducted over 1.3 million telehealth visits throughout 2020, which is more than three times as many visits as the previous year.

As one of only two National Telehealth Centers of Excellence in the country, the MUSC Center for Telehealth has worked tirelessly to expand the capabilities of its telehealth infrastructure during the COVID-19 crisis. Telehealth advancements achieved throughout the past year have allowed the Center to deliver considerable support to MUSC Health providers across the state and to hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians during an unprecedented time.