Written by Jaimee Green
In rural Montana, visits to see a medical specialist often mean the inconvenience of logging many highway miles and costly travel expenses. Telemedicine is changing all of that; widening the footprint of what services patients can receive right in their own hometown.
For over a decade, Northeast Montana Health Services has been using Telemed technology to make it easy for patients to have appointments with medical specialists and attend follow-up visits without ever leaving the city limits.
Because of their efforts, NEMHS recently received a plaque from the Eastern Montana Health Network recognizing their dedication to utilizing Telemed technology during a retreat attended by staff members from Riverside Clinic in Poplar.
The annual conference took place Aug. 14-16 in Billings. Lauri Handy, Telemed presenter and Registered Nurse, accepted the plaque on behalf of NEMHS.
Because living in the remote area of northeast Montana poses a number of healthcare challenges, the use of a cooperative network of technology and professional expertise allows NEMHS to use two-way interactive video conferencing technology to deliver specialist medical services. The concept is simple. A patient in Poplar can attend a regularly, locally scheduled exam while a physician in Billings conducts the exam remotely via video conferencing.
Telemed has been used in rural areas of Montana for 20 years and at NEMHS since 2001. Originally, the remote capabilities were only used for continuing education for staff. This allowed NEMHS employees to keep up with their required credentialing without having to miss excess work needed for travel time and the costs associated with it.
In recent years, the technology has become better adapted for patient use through ease of use and fluidity. Today, NEMHS works in collaboration most often with Billings Clinic and Saint Vincent’s Hospital, in Billings, but also uses other facilities as needed.
“People say a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Lauri Handy. “With Telemedicine, video conferencing brings specialists right to the bedside, allowing them to see what’s happening and collaborate with on-site providers to provide the best possible care to our patients.”
Last year, Telemed benefitted 40 patients at NEMHS. This year, 35 patients have used it so far.
“By implementing this into our facility we have been able to improve the continuity of patient care. We are able to treat patients seamlessly without them having to travel around the state to receive their specialist care while spending money on travel expenses. The patients seem to really like the convenience it offers them,” said Judy Lauridsen, a NEMHS Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner.
The use of technology to link far-distant practitioners has been steadily increasing in American medicine, particularly as a tool to provide rural and underserved communities with access to specialty physicians. More recently, telemedicine has been used for consultations to emergency rooms with NEMHS having the capability of utilizing Telemed for emergent pediatrics, along with oncology, nephrology, rheumatology, neurology, cardiology, behavioral health, and otolaryngology, (ear, nose and throat). Burn patients who may otherwise have to travel as far as Salt Lake City to the regions burn center for care also utilize Telemed technology.
“Some people simply wouldn’t receive the specialty care they need without this technology because they don’t have the means to travel or aren’t well enough to get there. This program is improving the healthcare outcomes of our patients while making it more cost effective for them,” said Handy.