By Sabrina Hornung
At the onset of the pandemic, South Central Health in Wishek North Dakota used technology as an outlet to serve their patients through telehealth services or through virtual appointments. Though virtual appointments aren’t going to replace in-person visits anytime soon they certainly prove to be a valuable resource to both patients and staff at not only their rural hospital but a number of rural hospitals throughout the region.
The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as, “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”
“We are trying to coordinate a telehealth service for behavioral health and psychiatric treatment out of the Fargo office. We’re just looking at contracts and trying to get that service here. The patient would have to come to the clinic and we would do all of the vital signs that the provider requests and then hook them up with the IT and line them up with the psychiatrist. We have not’ connected that yet but we’re working on having that in place within the next, I suppose the next 30-60 days.” Said Bev Vilhauer, CEO of South Central Valley Health.
There would be a coordinator onhand to ensure that the patients have the proper equipment in place to do virtual appointments. Vilhauer also expressed the importance of a secure internet connection to ensure privacy.
“The older population isn’t nearly as tech-savvy as the younger population, so we do spend a little bit of time looking at what resources they have available. I know that telepsychiatry out of Fargo, they have certain requirements and will provide certain things for us onsite that would connect us to them.” Vilhauer said.
One obstacle with these services is whether or not insurance companies are willing to fully reimburse folks seeking out this treatment, considering the fact that it’s a virtual visit rather than a traditional office visit. Though the hospital will still provide a room and a nurse will be present to collect any information that may be needed for the visit.
Another virtual service South Central utilizes is eCARE Emergency. Since it was established in 2009, eCARE Emergency has delivered immediate support to emergency departments at 137 hospitals throughout the nation. With the push of a button physicians at the hospital in Wishek are connected to an emergency room physician in Sioux Falls which is a couple hundred miles away.
“If you are running a code or emergency in the hospital you will be connected with a physician to help you run that code, or trauma, the physician will help walk you through everything you need, or help you arrange a transfer and assist in charting along the way. Another great thing that eEmergency can do is help keep that patient in our hospital. Maybe they don’t need to be transferred and they can use that software to make that determination.It’s like having an emergency room physician at your fingertips 24 hours a day and not having to pay a salary.” Vilhauer said.
She went on to say, “We may live in a rural community but we do have access to some pretty sophisticated technology and talent,” I think that from our standpoint it’s a wonderful recruitment tool. A lot of the providers we bring to our community are fairly new, we expect them to take care of patients, cover the emergency room and take calls. I think it’s a wonderful resource we can use to help them receive patients in a rural setting.”
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