SUNBURY — UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury is poised to have a big year in 2018 as medical officials are preparing to unveil their plan to rebrand and enhance the current facility in the city.

That rebuilding has already begun with the introduction in late February of Vocera, a telemedicine communication platform that instantly and securely connects physicians, clinicians and care teams. The portable, user-friendly system uses iPads and other devices to securely connect hospitals to doctors, and brings the current facility at 350 N. 11th St. up to the UPMC system standard, according to UPMC officials.

UPMC Susquehanna, a Pittsburgh-based health care giant, purchased Sunbury Community Hospital and Lock Haven Hospital on Oct. 1. Those acquisitions are some of UPMC Susquehanna’s most recent purchases. It has merged with about eight other hospitals since 2011 as insurance costs have made it more difficult for independent facilities to remain financially viable.

Other enhancements will include the facility, equipment, increased access to care and clinical research and recruiting physicians and specialists. Specifically, early investments include updates to surgery equipment and specialists and the information technology system in terms of new software and hardware, as well as introducing the city facility to telemedicine, officials said.

“As part of our affiliation, we’re working on some of the basics at Sunbury, and trying to build up and expand on the scope of services available for the community,” said Jan Fisher, executive vice president and CEO of UPMC Susquehanna. “Our 90-day plan is to evaluate what additional services are needed in the community and to look at our complement of physicians here and services we have to offer, and provide them locally. We’re looking at what areas we can improve access to the facility, and a stronger identity. We’re looking at all other technical spaces to see whether equipment needs upgraded with expansion in the services, and equipment in the OR.”

Dr. David Lopatofsky, the executive vice president and Chief Medical Officer at UPMC Susquehanna, said the facility in Williamsport has added sub-specialist care, such as gynecology, colorectal, advanced abdominal, cardiology and after-transplant care that Valley residents will have access to.

One way to accomplish this is bringing to Sunbury telemedicine practices, the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology. It would include video calls with doctors, specialized tools such as a video stethoscope, apps for private devices at home and video kiosks at places of employment.

“Patients can then go and have services done remotely and provided by those physicians not in the areas,” Lapatofsky said. “The patient would not have to travel long distances to get specialized services that are in short supply. That’s something we would like to bring to other hospitals like Sunbury, Lock Haven and Wellsboro.”

Robert Williams, associate vice president of UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury, said the city facility already was using Tele-Burn. When someone comes in with a third-degree burn, doctors were able to bring burn specialists in digitally to help treat the patient. If the patient needed to be transferred, the receiving hospital had the immediate information, Williams said.

Vocera, according to IT Site Lead Fax Rector, replaces the Tele-Burn system and allows all clinical information and images to be transferred across the mobile network, which is secure due to HIPAA Laws. If a doctor is at another facility or elsewhere, this allows for information and images to be sent to him or her securely.

In a similar fashion to the popular app SnapChat, Vocera deletes the information and images after a set period of time, and nothing remains in the memory of the cell phone or mobile device, Rector said.

The hospital is already using Picture Archive Communication System as well, which connects to other UPMC facilities. The system stores MRIs, X-rays, and other images digitally without the need to develop the film, Rector said.

Vocera is the secure network for texting, PACS is the secure network for radiology, Rector added.

More telemedicine is coming to UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury, including video calls — a program that is not yet in place, he said.

Lapatofsky said the equipment needed is not much more than computers and handheld devices like tablets and phones, but the hospital would need to ensure the broadband internet access is strong enough for the system, especially since the Valley is underserved. At this point, he said the hospital has “adequate service.”

“We’re going to see a lot more technology down here for patients who before had to leave town,” Williams said.

The hospital has been a pillar of the community for nearly 125 years, said Williams

“Health systems like UPMC lends immediate credibility to local health care,” Williams said. “Not because of their name, but because of the support and reputation they have.”

Small community hospital sare important, especially emergency departments with 24/7 care with MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds.

The hospital has at least 160 employees.

“We think the best investment is in our people,” Williams said.

“The core of where we’re headed is based on the people,” said Fisher. “The facilities will come next. Bob and his team are working on getting all the operational components in place, so we can start improving access to additional services.”

Email Justin Strawser at Follow him on Twitter @JustinLStrawser.

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