Expanding care

Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital continues to implement new technology with the goal of providing the best service possible to its patients, with a focus on keeping patients close to home. 

As part of that continued development, SBA implemented a telemedicine program this week on its inpatient floors.

“Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital is a rural healthcare organization with a very large service area in terms of distance,” said Jim Kirkbride, SBAMH president and CEO. “Telemedicine gives us the ability to improve access to patient populations which are currently underserved by medical providers. Our telehospitalist service is a way for us to complement our existing hospitalist service with night-time coverage, and to evaluate how we will use the technology in the future to connect other healthcare specialists with underserved populations.”

Telemedicine is being used in more rural hospitals across the state due to the growing shortage of physicians.

At SBA, telemedicine will enhance its hospitalist program, and increase the speed of admitting a patient to the hospital during the night when a patient would have to wait for the on-call physician to make his or her way to the hospital.

The telemedicine is provided by Eagle Telemedicine, which is based in Atlanta.

“We are delighted to welcome Susan B. Allen to our telemedicine program,” said Talbot “Mac” McCormick, MD, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Telemedicine. “We have devoted more than eight years to perfecting our telemedicine models of care, and we appreciate the enthusiasm with which our program has been adopted.  It’s another proof point that telemedicine fills a vital need in healthcare today.”

Dr. Brian Hunt, who is a hospital-based physician in Lawrence, will lead the Kansas Eagle team of eight doctors, who will focus on general inpatient care and admission.

“The biggest thing that happened was the introduction of electronic medical records,” he said of how technology like telemedicine came about. “It lets you manage as if you are on site. Everything can be done as if I’m there.”

When a patient is admitted, the telehospitalist has access to that patient’s medical records and any lab results.

Through a robot on a rolling stand, Hunt can examine the patient as if he is in the room. It includes a digital stethoscope and other diagnostic equipment, as well as a videoconferencing monitor and camera, letting the doctor communicate directly with the patient, family members and staff.

Hunt said he only needs the assistance of the nursing staff to start the exam to listen to the breathing and heart. This takes about five to seven minutes, then nurses can go about their other duties and he will use the camera which he can move to examine the patient, zooming in when needed.

“Products like this can do about 90 percent of the examination as if you are on site,” he said. “Ninety percent of care is getting a good patient history. It’s really remarkable what percentage of care can be provided with this technology.”

The only thing that is missed is touching of the patient during the exam, but the nurses can help with that.

The telehospitalist will be used from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at SBA. They will  collaborate with staff to diagnose and admit patients to the hospital, the same as an “on-site” hospitalist would. No matter where the telehospitalists are located, they are licensed to practice medicine in Kansas. They have gone through the same credentialing process required of all physicians who practice at Susan B. Allen.

The benefit of this is that previously, hospitalists at SBA were working 24-hours shifts, and this change will move them to 12-hour shifts.

They would still be available if needed during the night and the emergency room physician also would be available.

“The new program takes some of the stress off our current staff, especially by reducing the number of nighttime visits our doctors have to make to the hospital,” said Paige Dodson, M.D., chief medical officer at SBAMH.  “It’s not news to anyone that the physician shortage is growing in the U.S., and telemedicine can help us continue to attract the best physicians and other clinical staff. This, in turn, offers long-range benefits to area residents who depend on Susan B. Allen to be there when they need us.”

Hunt said this program will allow them to start the care of a patient in a comprehensive manner and earlier than traditionally done.

“We want to participate as a team with the nursing staff,” he said. “We’re fresh; we’re not being woken up.”

To use the program, when a patient comes to the hospital the staff sends a text to the telemedicine doctor on call that night and then he calls the hospital on the teleconference robot.

Eagle’s program receives high marks from patients and their families.  Elderly patients, who can sometimes be the most resistant to new technology, usually have no problem with the robot, and they appreciate the focus, quick responsiveness and uninterrupted attention from the remote physicians.  Doctors and other clinical staff like it, too.

“I was one of the biggest skeptics when I first started hearing about telemedicine,” said Hunt.  “But I learned it can be amazing in what it can do and how it can help take care of folks.”

There are currently five hospitals using Eagle Telemedicine, soon to be six. Eagle Telemedicine was founded in 2008, as one of the first companies to emerge in the telemedicine physician service arena, and continues to serve as a pioneer in the industry today, offering practical solutions, management tools and innovation through telemedicine. Eagle currently offers telemedicine programs and solutions in Hospitalist Medicine, Stroke and Acute Neurology, Psychiatric Care, Critical Care, ID and Nephrology. The company was launched through Eagle Hospital Physicians, which develops and supports hospitalist programs serving hospitals in more than a dozen states.

“Telemedicine is a strategic tool that provides solutions to the gap in availability of specialty providers identified in our 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment,” Kirkbride said. “Without this technology, Susan B. Allen will have difficulties offering convenient and cost efficient access to services which are not currently offered in El Dorado.”

In addition to benefits for patients and their families, being able to keep patients in their hometown hospital offers significant benefits for Susan B. Allen.  It means maintaining a higher patient census, which goes a long way toward keeping the facility’s financial profile strong.

“We are pleased to bring the benefits of telemedicine to our patients and our community,” said Dodson. “The new program will allow us to continue to provide the exceptional care our community has come to expect of us, and enhance those capabilities during evening and overnight hours, including weekends. The team of telemedicine physicians we are working with are partners who collaborate with our own doctors and provide guidance and expertise to our nurses and other clinical staff.”