Meet Michigan Medicine: Virtual Care Program

September 24, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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What exactly is “virtual care?”

Perhaps you envision someone sitting at home on the couch, clutching a box of tissues in one hand and FaceTime/Skype chatting with their doctor in the other? Or a parent on the phone with the pediatrician’s office, hoping to find out why their child’s fever isn’t responding to over-the-counter medications?

Although these are good guesses (with some truth in both depictions), those scenarios don’t cover the majority of what “virtual care” encompasses at Michigan Medicine.

“Virtual Care is the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology such as telephones, computers, email, webcams and mobile devices,” said Larry An, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine and medical director of the Michigan Medicine Virtual Care Program.

Here’s what you may not know about the program, which aligns with major institutional priorities at Michigan Medicine:

How virtual care fits into the health care puzzle

Why does Michigan Medicine need virtual care? It’s simple — virtual care provides convenience, better access and enhanced value for patients, all measurable drivers in patient satisfaction.

Patients can seek medical advice on many ailments from the comfort of their own homes (no fighting traffic or parking hassles!), open the door to specialty consults (better access!) and have specific medical conditions monitored for important data (enhanced value!).

“Our long-term vision at Michigan Medicine is based on a ‘Virtual First’ model,” said An. “Here are Michigan Medicine, we are always striving to improve patient care. In this day and age, we think this means providing a virtual option for our patients. By 2026, our goal for the program is for 15 percent of all patient visits to have a virtual component.”

Virtual care gives providers from both Michigan Medicine and strategic partners at institutions such as MidMichigan and Metro Health the ability to seek highly-specialized advice from Michigan Medicine’s renowned medical experts — which will lead to better patient outcomes. It can also help optimize provider schedules to create better access (with shorter wait times), reduce costs and lessen provider burnout by affording them work location flexibility.

Five virtual care segments

The Virtual Care team at Michigan Medicine is led by An, program administrator Alison Neff and associate director Jessie DeVito, and is made up of teams from both Health Information Technology Services (HITS) and the U-M Medical Group (UMMG). It serves as a resource for departments, clinics, faculty and staff interested in initiating, operating and/or evaluating telemedicine, virtual health, mobile health, and/or Telehealth systems in clinical practice and patient care.

The program is made up of five segments, each focusing on a particular health care function:

  • Scheduled Video Visits: These are real-time, face-to-face appointments between a patient on their mobile device and a Michigan Medicine provider who communicates within the MyUofMHealth patient portal and MiChart. They are typically scheduled by clinic teams in cases that do not require hands-on care, such as post-operative laparoscopic surgery patients or medication management visits.
  • On-Demand E-Visits: These serve as a convenient way for patients to request care and treatment for non-urgent medical conditions without an appointment or phone call. Patients log into their portal, complete a short questionnaire about their symptoms, and receive a return message through the portal with a comprehensive treatment plan within 24 hours. E-visits are offered for seasonal symptoms like cold and flu or for uncomfortable issues like poison ivy or pink eye.
  • Remote Patient Engagement and Monitoring: This is technology used to monitor and engage patients at home. Clinicians can keep track of a patient around-the-clock, allowing for real-time care plan adjustments along with condition-specific education at teachable moments. For example, the Department of Surgery’s MPOP (Michigan Pain Optimization Pathway) Program uses a mobile application to monitor post-surgical pain to help manage a patient’s pain and control opioid use.
  • TeleSpecialty Consults: These are real-time telemedicine consults, generally between Michigan Medicine and its affiliates and/or strategic partners such as MidMichigan or Metro Health. Patients who are inpatient, outpatient or in the ED at remote sites are able to receive high quality care from Michigan Medicine experts while remaining in their local communities. For complex conditions, videoconferencing equipment can be used such as a high-definition video camera.
  • E-Consults: These are a tool for primary care providers to enlist clinical advice from their specialist colleagues within 72 business hours. The consults all take place within MiChart.

A valuable service

“As a physician who conducts video visits, I appreciate the value that virtual health brings to our patients,” said Michael Mulholland, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Surgery. “As a leader in our health system, it’s important to also recognize that this service saves Michigan Medicine time and money and positions us for future success.”

Michigan Medicine’s virtual care journey will continue to focus on providing the right care to patients at the right time and in the right place. With that in mind, there is significant opportunity for growth, many of which directly align with the organization’s strategic institutional goals.

These opportunities include improving access to manage the health of 400,000 people locally, securing access to 3.5 million patients through statewide partnerships, and enhancing value to optimize the patient experience.

Want to learn more about Virtual Care? Listen to The Wrap below, visit the Virtual Care Internal site or send a message to