CHESTERFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A suburban St. Louis hospital chain is preparing to begin construction of a virtual care center that seeks to address a shortage of doctors — particularly specialists — by offering telemedicine to underserved regions of the country.
Mercy Health is breaking ground Tuesday on a $50 million four-story, 120,000-square-foot telemedicine center in Chesterfield, Missouri. Plans call for the center to open next year with nearly 300 physicians, nurses and support staff.
The center will deliver medical care all day, every day, through audio, video and data connections. It will provide medical care for people in remote rural areas and underserved inner cities, saving them the hassle of a trip to the city.
Mercy, the nation's sixth-largest Catholic health care system, operates 32 hospitals in four states — Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. But CEO Lynn Britton said the telemedicine center won't be limited to those regions.
In fact, officials at Mercy believe that within five years, the center will serve 3 million virtual customers. They say the center will also play an important role in telemedicine research and training.
Mercy has been involved in telemedicine since 2006. Britton said the time was right for the new center that brings the technology together in one place.
"The technology has matured to the point where it's affordable and easy to use," Britton said. "I think patients and consumers are used to managing much of their lives in a digital way. It improves the access to patients in lots of ways."
Nearly one in five Americans lives in a region designated as having a shortage of primary care physicians. Experts say the number of doctors entering the field won't likely meet demands of an aging population with more chronic illness.