Spending many, long hours in an emergency and trauma center in a Mississippi hospital can, surprisingly, give great insight into how much rural Mississippians are suffering just because they live hours away from high-quality emergency and specialty care. As the Chief Telehealth & Innovation Officer for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, I have seen the results for these patients. The effects on their health and the outcome of their injuries and illnesses are far worse due to the distance between their town and a hospital with the necessary resources. It doesn’t seem right that they can’t receive prompt, proper, life-saving medical care.
As I set out to do something about this, I began to realize the bigger picture. It was much bigger than I first thought. It extends beyond the lack of emergency care in rural towns, to all areas of healthcare. Resources are limited and poorly distributed, concentrated mostly in urban areas. This is not just a lack of access to specialty physicians, but also includes services from interpreters, diabetic educators, wound care nurses, pastors, and psychologists. A diabetic person unable to see a diabetic educator and endocrinologist, or a first-time mother unable to have a lactation consultant tell her what to expect, is likely to experience a much different outcome than people who are afforded these services. The impact is significant and costly.
Thinking about lives that can benefit and even be saved when technology is embraced in healthcare, is what drives me to get up every day and take on the challenge of transforming the healthcare system. It doesn’t have to be this way anymore. Technology can bring needed health and wellness services anywhere and can even help a well-staffed health center function more efficiently and effectively. Individuals have the ability to be fully engaged, using technology to empower them to help manage their health. If we integrate telehealth into the existing healthcare system, we can make remarkable improvements and accomplish great things. The healthcare system in Mississippi is being transformed and technology is helping to lead that change. Our telehealth network is filling gaps in the state healthcare system and is strengthening communities. The success of our program can be replicated across the nation.
Oh, and did I mention, we can also save money?
Our telehealth team includes critical care nurses, nurse educators, chronic disease nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and physicians who are dedicated to our Telehealth Center, while also tapping into the skills of all the health professionals in our academic medical center. With technology, we can provide care when and where it is needed—from hospitals to homes to workplaces.
Our remote patient monitoring services in homes is our newest service—and one of the most exciting. Preliminary results from this program, in our diabetes home monitoring service, are already showing significant improvement in diabetes control, weight management, and medication adherence. Patients in this program are controlling their diabetes for the first time in their lives, because of the personalized support that we are offering them, via technology in their homes. People of all ages, income, and education levels are benefiting from this program.
Technology is also expanding access to critical care specialists with our eICU program. Our nurses remotely monitor high-acuity patients, using an advanced technology system that enables our team to see and hear the patient and provide round-the-clock care for critically ill patients. The nurses can also monitor data trends, observe subtle changes in patient condition, and offer decision support and assistance for bedside caregivers. All of this occurs remotely and away from the sometimes-distracting hustle and bustle of the hospital. This additional level of care is increasing the rates of discharge and survival of ICU patients.
Our Telemergency Program connects nurse practitioners in rural emergency rooms, to board-certified emergency medicine physicians through our telehealth network. This program is improving patient outcomes, while also saving money.
Our telehealth network is a comprehensive model that offers everything from child development services to Alzheimer’s specialty services, statewide. Without technology, these services would not be accessible to most. Telehealth makes it possible to break down the barriers and bring healthcare to more people. Connect through email, Facebook, or Twitter to continue this conversation with us.