Mercy’s virtual care program creatively combines people and technology to extend Mercy’s reach and services well beyond the walls of doctors’ offices, hospital campuses and other traditional facilities. By studying the impact of new approaches and then putting new technologies to the test, Mercy ultimately hopes to provide better care through more convenient and lower-cost locations.
The first of its kind, Mercy Virtual Care Center began operating in October 2015 without a single patient in the building. Virtual care is delivered using highly sensitive two-way cameras, online-enabled instruments and real-time vital signs, allowing clinicians to “see” patients. Patients may be in one of Mercy’s traditional hospitals, a doctor’s office or, in some cases, the patient’s own home.
Rising almost organically from a naturally wooded, 40-acre site, Mercy’s Virtual Care Center is transforming health care and changing how new commercial buildings are planned, constructed and function.
The first-of-its-kind center opened in the fall of 2015, connecting patients with clinical expertise and convenience. In concert with Forum Studio, Inc. (now known as Lamar Johnson Collaborative) and Clayco, Mercy developed plans that minimized the impact on the earth and provide a better environment for those who will work there – and ultimately those they serve.
“This location is unique because it is mostly untouched,” said Shannon Sock, Mercy’s chief financial officer. “There are many trees more than 100 years old, a ravine with a small lake and plenty of wildlife. We knew we wanted to preserve as much of the beauty as possible.”
Most building sites are cleared before construction, but not this one. Instead, the terrain and topography were carefully studied before a single shovel was lifted. As a result, more than 70 percent of the existing landscape was preserved.
“Given the values Mercy has regarding life, we saw nature and wildlife as a very precious commodity, and something we wanted to integrate into our planning, design and ultimately, into our construction,” explained Chris Cedergreen, chairman and senior principal of Forum. “Birds, deer, fox, rabbits and squirrels, still co-exist there.”
Trees were surveyed and scanned by laser and drone to determine where to nestle the building. An arborist carefully informed decisions about trees and vegetation. Three “watch words” guided the team: preserve, restore and enhance. Some trees weren’t indigenous to the area, and the undeveloped site was also home to unwelcome invasive plants, including honeysuckle. Trees chosen for preservation were selected based on size, aesthetics and how they might assist in energy conservation.
“We found a beautiful grove of large, hardwood trees and shifted the building so the south façade would be up against the trees,” said Chip Crawford, senior principal at Forum. “This shades the building from sun in the summer months, but allows sunlight to come in during the winter – leveraging nature’s genius.”
Before construction, trees near the building site were pruned, fenced and maintained to prevent damage. All trees removed were repurposed. Larger pieces were transformed into furnishings; less-desirable pieces were shredded or made into mulch for walking paths and landscaped areas. These measures helped retain the natural beauty of the site and provide shade to parking areas as well.
During construction, Clayco worked to minimize the environmental impact. “The way we build is pretty green and environmentally-conscious,” said Ryan Taylor, Clayco project executive. “We use the most efficient and environmentally friendly materials and construction methods possible. We recycle all possible construction waste and train our employees on how to properly participate.”
The 125,000-square-foot center is constructed with natural materials and wrapped in glass to provide maximum exposure to the surrounding views. Inside, all four floors feature an open design for flexibility as operations evolve to better serve patients.
The building isn’t just attractive, it’s smart, too.
“Mercy’s desire for sustainability and good stewardship drove its choices of building systems and interior finishes,” said Dave Hirschbuehler, Forum architect and project manager. “In fact, highly efficient mechanical and electrical systems are projected to reduce energy and water consumption by 20 percent.”
Glass walls allow virtually everyone indoors a connection with nature. On every floor, there is either a terrace or balcony where co-workers and visitors can step out to smell, feel or touch the outdoors.
“This connection with the outside is unique for institutional and health care buildings,” Cedergreen said. “Having a bond with nature helps improve one’s mental state. We knew health care providers would be working at computer screens for long hours at a time, so we wanted to give them the ability to engage with nature both visually and physically.”
A small lake on the site was enlarged to enhance the setting and capture storm water run-off. Walking trails and accessible paths will be added to provide a welcome outlet for physical respite during breaks and before or after work.
“Working together with our design and construction partners, we’ve found a way to preserve the natural beauty of these pristine acres in the heartland of America,” said Lynn Britton, Mercy president and chief executive officer. “At the same time, we’re providing unprecedented care to patients across the country.”
POLITICO is spreading the word about Mercy Virtual to millions of readers through a story that describes Mercy’s use of virtual care as one of the cutting-edge innovations driving the future of health care.
In the November 2017 article, Mercy Virtual is regarded as “a glimpse into a future in which hospital systems are paid more when patients are healthy, not sick.”
In addition to explaining the work Mercy Virtual does with hospitalized patients, the article shows how we use technology to help monitor those with chronic conditions from the comfort of their homes and provide an extra level of care for those in the ICU.
The January 2017 issue of Delta Sky Magazine focuses on the launch of virtual, and how innovative methods are changing health care. Read the full article “Staying Well, Virtually.”
In the CNN series “Agility in Action,” the cable news network focuses on innovative ideas across a variety of fields. In Mercy Virtual’s case, high-speed data and video connections keep tabs on the sickest patients who typically end up, unnecessarily, back in the hospital. Click here to watch the segment.
In the article, “Mercy Designing the Nation’s First Virtual Care Center,” Becker’s Health IT & CIO Report explores Mercy’s breakthrough approach to virtual care delivery.
Mercy Virtual was featured in the December 2016 issue of Prevention Magazine, which highlights medical firsts; game-changing drugs and devices; as well as fascinating research that will "change your life immediately."
Mercy Virtual’s unique design was the cover story of the November/December 2016 edition of Medical Construction & Design, a major source of news, technology and research in the construction industry.
According to U.S. News & World Report’s article in August 2016, Mercy Virtual is taking virtual care to a “whole other level.” The national publication puts the Mercy Virtual Care Center front and center in its latest feature: Are Virtual Care Clinics the Wave of the Future?
Mercy’s use of virtual care made The New York Times’ July 12, 2015 Sunday edition. Read the article, “Modern Doctors’ House Calls: Skype Chat and Fast Diagnosis.”
Mercy recently joined an expert panel for a live webcast, “Telehealth: How New Technologies are Transforming Health Care” in May 2015. The forum was presented by Harvard, in collaboration with The Huffington Post, and focused on the growing need for virtual care services nationwide and globally – and what it will take to get doctor and patient buy-in.