[SUNDAY FEATURE] A hospital without patients

An example of a telemedicine station, which includes a camera view of a hospital bed, data tracked from vital sign monitors, and computerized supports to help nurses and doctors at the virtual hospital help staff at brick-and-mortar hospitals around the country. /Whitney Curtis for POLITICO

The cutting edge of health care is tucked off a St. Louis highway exit.

And it’s eerily quiet.

By Arthur Allen | POLITICO

HESTERFIELD, Mo.― Located off a superhighway exit in suburban St. Louis, nestled among locust, elm and sweetgum trees, the Mercy Virtual Care Center has a lot in common with other hospitals. It has nurses and doctors and a cafeteria, and the staff spend their days looking after the very sick―checking their vital signs, recording notes, responding to orders and alarms, doing examinations and chatting with them.

There’s one thing Mercy Virtual doesn’t have: beds.

Instead, doctors and nurses sit at carrels in front of monitors that include camera-eye views of the patients and their rooms, graphs of their blood chemicals and images of their lungs and limbs, and lists of problems that computer programs tell them to look out for. The nurses wear scrubs, but the scrubs are very, very clean. The patients are elsewhere.

Mercy Virtual is arguably the world’s most advanced example of something gaining momentum in the health care world: A virtual hospital, where specialists remotely care for patients at a distance.

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