SMCH Implements Telemedicine Technology
Lake City, Iowa - The hospital in Lake City is an important asset for healthcare within our region. While it can be challenging to provide healthcare in a rural area the leadership and staff are moving forward with their "putting people first" fundraising campaign and a $31 million dollar expansion and renovation project to enhance the overall patient experience, broaden available healthcare services, recruit and retain the best medical staff, and be a catalyst for economic development.
One such area of improvement is the new emergency room space. Thanks to Karl Jones and the Calhoun County Phoenix newspaper for permission to reprint this article about new technology in the emergency room. This particular technology is an example of how broadband is important in rural healthcare.
Doctors on ZOOM?
Stewart Memorial Community Hospital implements new Telemedicine Technology
By Karl Jones, Calhoun County Phoenix
With the opening of their new Emergency Room, Stewart Memorial Community Hospital (SMCH) is utilizing Avel eCare to provide Telemedicine services. This new technology helps the emergency room to keep patients longer while waiting for transport, or possibly get them taken care of in Lake City.
SMCH started using Avel eCare in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. With patients coming in at a higher than normal rate, and staff being out due to catching the virus themselves, Avel eCare helped SMCH keep up with the high demand for medical services.
“We had an iPad that we would bring into the room,” ER Director/Trauma Coordinator Lara Cornelius said. “They could see us on the iPad and we would tell them what was on the vents and they would guide us. It wasn’t as advanced as what we currently have in the ER.”
In the new ER, the trauma bays are equipped with specialized telemedicine equipment which allows doctors at Avel to see the readings on the equipment directly. They also have access to cameras and can see pretty much everything the providers in the room can see.
The service has proven to be effective in the ER, as situations can arise where a patient is in need of a lot of hands-on care. With the telemedicine technology, staff at Avel can get in contact with ambulances or helicopters as well as other hospitals to arrange a transfer more quickly than the staff at SMCH would be able to in those situations.
“They have gotten Life Light in the air for us,” Cornelius said. “It just saves us so much time in here because we don’t have a lot of hands or an extra person that can go figure that stuff out all the time.”
In addition, the doctors at Avel are in their own hospitals. This gives them access to specialists with whom they can consult to provide better care for patients who have conditions that SMCH does not have to deal with as often. A doctor at Avel may even be more familiar with a situation than those at SMCH and be able to direct those in the room how to deal with them much more quickly than if someone had to look something up.
The Avel eCare is also useful to SMCH’s doctors when a second opinion is needed. Sometimes the lab results can portray multiple possibilities and getting a second opinion can help narrow down the problem.
Currently SMCH has the Emergency plan with Avel, which lets them utilize the service in the ER for emergency situations. The subscription-based service is a constant fee, so regardless of how many times SMCH has to call in they will always be able to.
In addition to the Emergency plan, Avel offers behavioral health, crisis care, emergency, EMS, hospitalist, ICU, pharmacy, school health, and senior care services. SMCH is considering expanding their useage of the Avel eCare program to the regular hospital floor.
While it is not through Avel currently, SMCH also has a behavioral health telemedicine program that they utilize.
“ITP Integrated Telehealth utilizes Skype, so it’s not as fancy as Avel’s service.” Cornelius said. “But it is another way we use telemedicine because we don’t have psychiatrists here. I would say the most growing population of patients is behavioral health patients by far.”
Telemedicine programs can be used to fill holes a hospital has in their capabilities. With the current state of the medical industry, it can be difficult to find people who want to stay as a part of your service. With a program like Avel eCare, smaller hospitals can get access to more specialized doctor’s opinions on a shorter notice.
When a hospital does not see a situation very often, it can be difficult to know how to deal with it at a short notice. In the past, SMCH would need to transfer out most of their ER patients as soon as they possibly could. Thanks to telemedicine they can now afford to wait a little longer for a transfer as they have quick access to the knowledge necessary to deal with most situations.
The telemedicine program is part of a much larger update that SMCH has been conducting over the past few years. With their renovation project nearing completion, the hospital’s facilities should be able to better service the community.
Webster-Calhoun Cooperative Telephone Association (WCCTA) provides Internet, landline telephone, Wifi, and television service to 20 rural communities in North Central, Iowa, including Lake City, Iowa. As a certified Gig Capable provider from NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association, WCCTA can provide up to Gigabit and symmetrical Internet speeds. www.wccta.net