Leveling The Playing Field

August 7, 2013 by InTouch Health

Americans sometimes forget that they inhabit a vast continent. The states of Idaho and Oregon, for example, occupy more square miles than all of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, and Switzerland combined.

Medically undeserved areas are finally getting the care they need through the power of telemedicine

We also forget that there are still frontiers in America, too – counties that actually meet the federal definition of a frontier: fewer than six people per square mile. There are still some of those in rural Idaho and Oregon – and people there have been medically underserved for generations. But that’s changing fast, thanks to telemedicine.

St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center (SARMC) in Boise, Idaho is a tertiary facility at the center of the Idaho/Oregon Telemedicine Network that uses Remote Presence technology to connect rural and frontier facilities across both states. The counties served by the network have a 23% uninsured rate compared to the 15% national average – and the poverty rate is slightly higher than the national figure. Clearly, these are not the type of communities that can easily attract topnotch neurologists and cardiologists – but that’s the caliber of care they’re now getting through the network.

Telemedicine is truly leveling the playing field for these rural and frontier patients, giving them access to the high-quality care you’d receive in Boise or Boston. The network has greatly expanded the scope of services available in these small towns: stroke treatment, cardiology, psychiatry, and even burn treatment (in conjunction with the University of Utah’s Burn Center). More stroke patients in the region are identified as candidates and now receive t-PA treatment earlier in course of care – without requiring transport to SARMC.

The financial benefits have been impressive, too. The telemedicine network has thus far saved these communities $844,000 in transport costs and eliminated 1.4 million miles of patient travel. A typical psychiatric ED visit that once cost about $1,300 now costs roughly $100.

You could argue that telemedicine is taking American democracy to new heights. Think how proud Teddy Roosevelt would be if he knew that a patient in tiny Emmett, Idaho could one day get the same high-caliber stroke treatment as a patient in Manhattan or Malibu. He’d probably say, “Job well done!”