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Intermountain officials mark successes in telehealth services, envision company as ‘Amazon Prime of health care’

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SALT LAKE CITY — When Lauren Massey gave birth to her son six weeks early in the rural Uinta Basin, a helicopter prepared to fly him west to a larger hospital.

But because the baby had air in his chest, an Intermountain Healthcare doctor feared the flight would be unsafe for the infant and instead flew east himself to help care for the baby.

“And at that moment, I was so grateful for someone that cared so much about my son ... to take the time to come out to rural Roosevelt to help my son, to make sure that he had the best care possible. That was very touching,” Massey said on a video played during an Intermountain Healthcare annual report to the community.

The story was one example of how Intermountain officials say telehealth services are improving care throughout Utah’s underserved communities. The organization’s neonatal telehealth program is now the largest in the country, they said.

Through such services, Intermountain leaders Friday said they want to continue lowering health care costs in Utah and beyond by making care increasingly available, right at patients’ fingertips.

Intermountain’s telehealth services have so far helped more than 710,000 patients, said Rob Allen, senior vice president and chief operating officer, and are being used in seven western states.

The company envisions a time when Intermountain will be similar to an Amazon Prime of health care by increasing availability of care through smartphones, said Bert Zimmerli executive vice president.

As frustrations rise nationwide, along with the costs of care, Utah is doing better than average in numbers of people receiving health care, Zimmerli said. Still, “we have to be even better.”

During the annual report to the community in a downtown Salt Lake City Marriott, Zimmerli and another executive shared updates to company and local leaders regarding what Intermountain is doing and how it hopes to continue improving.

Intermountain has seen a $65 million reduction in its bottom line from lowering the costs of procedures, Zimmerli said. It did that by improving competitive pricing for “shopped” procedures like newborn deliveries and outpatient procedures, and has reduced patient out-of-pocket costs by $10 million, he said.

Because of those hits to its bottom line, the company needs to keep driving its costs down, Zimmerli said.

Last year, Intermountain Healthcare eliminated 396 jobs and created 107 new positions as part of the structural overhaul it launched in late 2017.

The company currently employs 40,000 caregivers, Zimmerli said, making it one of the largest employers in Utah.

He emphasized that the company is committed to helping those who can’t pay for care themselves. Last year, Intermountain gave $250 million in charity care, Zimmerli said.

Allen said the company improves day by day with the help of ideas from its caregivers. Last year, caregivers generated 48,000 ideas to improve work, he said. On average, the company implemented more than 130 of those ideas a day.

One example of improvements thought up by staff members addressed infant falls, which sometimes occur when a new mother dozes off while holding her baby, Allen said. A nurse came up with steps for safe infant sleep, Allen said. Since launching the ideas in Logan, the hospital there has seen no infant falls, and infant falls have been reduced by 50% systemwide, Allen said.

The steps can be found on Intermountain’s website and include never bed-sharing with a newborn, and always putting a baby on his or her back until they can roll over.

“Not only did it make it safer for babies in our hospitals, but mothers were given that information on discharge,” Allen said.

Intermountain is also seeking to lead the way in precision medicine through genome mapping to help predict and prevent disease; Civica Rx, its affordable drug company that started this year; personalizing care for depression and anxiety; and a new kidney care center.

News is also expected on an initiative to improve pediatric care, Allen said.