Saint Luke’s East Launches Virtual Nurse Program, a First for the Health System

Gail BryantNew Development

Saint Luke’s East patients may notice something different the next time they have a hospital stay. In February, the hospital was the first in the Saint Luke’s Health System to introduce new virtual nurse technology. It is a pilot program that was launched in coordination with the opening of 24 new beds on February 4th and will serve as a model if Saint Luke’s decides to expand the program to other hospitals within the health system. Because of the infrastructure requirements, Saint Luke’s East Hospital CEO Bobby Olm-Shipman said the construction made it the perfect candidate to be the first to use the technology.

“Saint Luke’s East has a reputation for being pretty innovative and the team is very forward-thinking, so when we floated the idea, they really just jumped on it and said, ‘Yeah, we want to try this, we’d love to be the first to do it,’” said Olm-Shipman.

Here is how it works. The patient’s room is equipped with a camera and two monitors. One monitor displays the patient’s vital signs. The other displays a virtual nurse who is monitoring several patients from a command center within Saint Luke’s East. They can monitor oxygen levels and heart rates from afar and activate another nurse to respond to patients immediately when necessary.

“This means while your regular nurse is in the unit taking care of you, the virtual nurse provides another layer of nursing support that keeps an eye on the patient as well,” said Olm-Shipman.

Olm-Shipman said the virtual observation, which will be provided in addition to traditional nursing care, will increase the level of care provided to patients.

“Ultimately, what we’re hoping isthis gives us the ability to provide even more efficient care because we’re identifying their needs more quickly by having that virtual nurse right there and being able to see what’s really going on, but also we’re hoping it makes our patients feel like they’re connected more closely to our care team.”

Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council President & CEO Rick McDowell said it is exciting to have the technology introduced in Lee’s Summit.

“We pride ourselves on the quality healthcare options in our community and part of that is introducing cutting-edge technology to improve patient care,” said Rick McDowell. “Lee’s Summit’s healthcare providers are leaders in the region and we are pleased they are able to offer advanced healthcare options to residents in Lee’s Summit and the surrounding areas.”

New programs are also in the works. Saint Luke’s East is preparing to introduce a neurosurgical spine program, which will allow it to offer minimally-invasive spine surgeries. According to Olm-Shipman, patients had previously been referred to Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City for this type of surgery. He said the change will allow for a more comprehensive approach among care providers and keeps patients closer to home. 

“Whenever you get care, whether it’s elective or not, it’s disruptive to your life. You’re traveling, you’re taking a day off work. Maybe a spouse or a partner or someone in your social circle needs to be there with you,” said Olm-Shipman. “The closer you can keep people to home, the less disruptive it is to patients’ lives and their families and support systems.”

The hospital plans to have five or six neurosurgeons and one physiatrist in the neurosurgical spine clinic, which is expected to open in March or April. Procedures will begin soon after.

The hospital is also partnering with the Saint Luke’s Hospital to add a vascular services program. Olm-Shipman said the vascular program will have a dedicated surgeon and is set to begin offering services in the fall or winter of 2021.

In addition to a surgeon, the hospital is upgrading one of its operating rooms to a hybrid model. The hybrid will have robotic technology that allows the surgeon to begin with minimally-invasive vascular procedures. In the event it becomes necessary for the surgeon to conduct a more intrusive procedure, the robotic equipment can be moved and the surgeon can manually conduct the remainder of the surgery.

In the coming months, Saint Luke’s East will continue construction on its new unit. In addition to the 24 beds that opened earlier this month, it plans to add six new beds by the summer. The project is budgeted for $26.8 million, but expected to be completed under budget. McCownGordon Construction is the general contractor for the 26,590-square-foot addition to the hospital. ACI Boland was the architect. IMEG Corp. was also a partner.